Preschool in Israel is free starting at three years old. This is epic. Your three year old can get an education without it costing you any money. If you're staying in Israel you can easily (well, relatively) get your kids into a preschool.
We really wanted Sadie to go to preschool where Hebrew was the primary language. Getting Sadie enrolled in school has been a process. The first week we were eating and trying to survive horrible jet lag, Aaron was unable to accustom himself to the new time zone. We spent the second week of our time here walking from apartment to apartment in search of the perfect place to live so we could get a lease and enroll Sadie in school for this school year.
First Logan thought he needed to go to the Ministry of Education to sign Sadie up for school. When he got there, a long distance from where we live, he was told he needed to go to the City Hall to enroll Sadie in gan. The next day he took the kids in the late afternoon and walked to the City Hall while I sat at a cafe enjoying a cup of hot tea and uninterrupted time to write. When he arrived he could not find anyone sitting at the front desk. He was encouraged by someone working the security detail to walk through and past the cubicles to find the employees drinking and eating.
They were annoyed with his presence and asked him, "what do you want?" He was informed if he wanted to sign Sadie up for school he needed to return the next day between 9 am and noon. Logan is in Yeshiva in the morning, so I had to take the epic journey with the kids. Sadie woke up the next morning congested and coughing. I spent the next hour encouraging her to leave the house. Finally she agreed to leave and we arrived at 11:15am. We walked through a security check and walked into a large room with two men sitting at separate desks. One man was on the phone and looked away from me when we made eye contact. The other man sat at his desk, bent over until his chest almost touched his thighs and whispered fervently into his cellphone in Hebrew. I waited for a few minutes before he put his phone away and acknowledged me.
As I tried explaining to him that I needed to enroll my daughter in school, he told me to go to the other side of the building and then a man asked him something in Hebrew and was sent to the row of cubicles behind the front desks. I was momentarily confused until I explained that my husband said this is where I needed to be to sign my daughter up for preschool. The man looked at me and said, "kindergarden, not school?" and I said, "school, kindergarden, same thing, no?" He shook his head at me and said, "kindergarden, kindergarden (head nodding twice), school is school."
Okay, so "kindergarden" is preschool and kindergarden, if I understand correctly it's called "gan"; "school" is elementary school. He pointed behind me and said, "go, Adina, go." I looked at him confused, "what? Adina?" I ask him. He said, "yes, go, Adina." I walked into a small hallway dividing rows of cubicles. I looked around until I saw a woman talking to the man who had interrupted my conversation earlier. We spent 20 minutes waiting for him to wrap up his conversation. By the time we got to Adina it was 11:40, cutting it very close. I became nervous hoping 20 minutes was enough to enroll Sadie in kindergarden. Adina and I spoke for a few minutes, she then photocopied our passports, told me there was a kindergarden open for Sadie in Nachalot that was religious but not too religious and then apologized but she had a meeting to attend. I wrote down my phone number and watched her exit the building with some co-workers. I did not know what to do. I expected to finalize Sadie's educational plans and was left with a promise of a phone call the next day.
The next day I was shocked to receive a phone call from the department, it is one of Adina's co-workers. After our funny experience with property managers I did not really expect anyone to call me back. I was informed that all the schools in our area were full and we had to wait until next year to enroll her. My voice rose in frustration. I told the woman on the phone that Adina promised there was an opening this year in Nachalot for Sadie, a 15 minute walk from my location. We argued back and forth, finally she puts Adina on the phone. At this point I am upset, my voice thickened with a Russian accent as I argue with Adina. I demand to know why in 24 hours the class that had an opening no longer had one. I ask for a gan in a religious neighborhood nearby. Adina is surprised saying it's very religious and I need a Rabbi's approval to get in. I admit that is too religious for me, and beg her for any other options. Unfortunately the language barrier made it difficult for both of us to understand each other. Despite the differences in language Adina really did try to make it work and finally mentioned a gan (kindergarden) with an opening in a neighborhood 25 minutes away by foot. She explained that it's religious but not too religious, which is perfect for us.
Two days later we were awake early preparing Sadie for school. We got lost on the way but finally made it there. Her gan is in a little building, there are exactly two classes. From the outside the gan does not match the facilities Sadie enjoyed in San Diego. But they were still cute and cozy. There were some planter beds and playground equipment, nothing fancy. There were lots of toy bikes and sand. I was curious to see what the inside was like. When we entered the classroom we were met by two beaming teachers. Neither of them really spoke any English. One was young and slender, the other older and very motherly in figure and manner. I loved them both immediately. We spent some time trying to communicate in broken English, Hebrew, gesturing repeatedly and asking the help of parents trickling in as they dropped off their kids. There were many laughs and hand shakes and smiling. The older teacher and I felt close immediately. I was relieved almost to the point of tears to see what amazing teachers Sadie was going to have for the rest of the school year.
We spent two hours in the classroom allowing Sadie to integrate into the class. The students were very curious and followed her around as she played at different stations. Aaron ran around and eventually broke a wooden stroller by sitting in it and falling backwards. Her classmates were very cute and shy, smiling sideways as I attempted to communicate with them in Hebrew. Sadie transitioned from being completely attached to my leg to wandering the room quietly. After two hours I was able to have Sadie sit down and do an activity of filling a container with little sticks. She was happy to empty the container on the teacher's orders, running to her teacher to show her the empty container. When they sat down for circle time she wanted Logan to sit next to her. He gently told her no and we stood watching the circle time until she forgot we were there. We were able to leave and grab a quick lunch waiting for Sadie's day to end.
When we reentered her classroom, Sadie was sitting by the teacher in a circle with the other kids. She was smiling. Despite not speaking Hebrew and despite her teachers not speaking English, she was able to feel comfortable in her new environment. For this I have many people to thank. I am grateful for the amazing teachers Sadie had at CHA who taught her with love and patience, who obviously made school a great experience. And then, I have to thank these two women who took Sadie in with so much love. When we were leaving they both grabbed her cheeks and kissed her repeatedly. Neither of them had to show so much affection and care for my child, they could have resented the difficulty of having a non-Hebrew speaking child in their class. Instead, they loved her and nurtured her and gave her a peaceful space where she could grow and learn.
Today was Sadie's fourth day of school. She comes home tired, worn out, her mind taxed by the challenge of learning a new language. And yet, every day she is happy to go back to gan. I will eternally be grateful to the teachers in my daughter's life who go out of their way to love, love, love their students and my daughter.
We are here for three weeks now. They have been very eventful. We have found a new place to live, Sadie has started a public kindergarten (more on that later), Logan is in Yeshiva part-time and I am looking for a nanny three hours a day/5 days a week to watch Aaron so I can work on my writing. We have built a home here. Despite all of these great accomplishments I am feeling terribly homesick. I miss my family and I miss my friends from back home. It's hard starting over in a new land.
I also really miss being able to communicate fully with people around me. The language barrier is starting to get to me. I feel vulnerable. I feel easily taken advantage of by shopkeepers who know I am an American. I feel like a chump. Yesterday at the shuk I wanted to buy a cart to wheel my groceries around. The owner wanted a 150 shekels. I handed him a 120 and asked him if that was enough. It was my quiet way of bargaining. I hoped the sight of money would have him drop the price. No such luck. He was offended waving his arms at me and shaking his head while saying "no." I reached into my purse and handed him the 150 and walked away shaking, upset. I didn't feel the cart was worth his asking price but I was too embarrassed to walk away from the situation. I spent the rest of the time at the shuk mentally shaken by the experience.
I am not used to bargaining. I pay the asking price and move on. But here, when nothing has a price on it, it makes sense to try to lower the price.
This morning when I was at the park with Aaron the sounds of sirens filled the air. At first I thought it was particularly loud city noise when I noticed the sirens were loud and filling the space around me. I began to panic imagining a rocket in the air propelling towards our park. I looked around and no one else looked concerned. Moments later my phone was ringing, it was Logan. It was an emergency siren test, he had received a text message in Hebrew warning him. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I did not receive the terrifying text Logan got minutes earlier that was all in Hebrew except for the part in English: Emergency Alerts - Imminent Extreme Alert.
Israel is an intense place to live. I realize more people die per day in car accidents than in rocket accidents but I'm still afraid. I have developed a fear of living here. This place feels raw and real, very unlike uneventful San Diego. I am starting to miss the feel of my land, the trees, the fresh breeze blowing in from the ocean. Here most trees are cut into disastrous shapes, the landscaping is bare. I miss the false feeling of safety that does not exist in Israel. I miss American innocence. I wish Israel was safe enough to find its innocence. Kids here live in a world where they need to have gas masks in school, learn about ways to protect themselves during rocket attacks. Kids lose their innocence here quickly.
Both of my parents are immigrants from Ukraine. Yesterday was my father's 35th anniversary leaving the former Soviet Union. I always respected my parents' experience but I never understood what it was like to leave your culture and your land behind and try to make it somewhere else. It's a hellish experience. And I am saying this with money in the bank and the comfort of knowing I can go home whenever I wish. My parents came to Chicago separately at 19 with their parents. They had to finish their important years of development in a country completely alien to their own. Russian and American culture are polar opposites of one another. They needed to get a solid understanding of the language and cultural nuances to make new opportunities and to survive.
I am hopeful this is just a phase. I am betting on settling into the land and the culture and learning the language and finding a happy medium in all this chaos. But even if I do, I miss my family. I spoke to a mother of four at a park today. She has been living in Israel for seven years. She said at first she missed the shopping and ease of America. But now, seven years later, all she misses is her family. The older I get the more I realize the importance of family.
Israel is beautiful! I want to share some photos of Jerusalem I have taken over the past two weeks.
I will admit I was pretty scared about doing mikvah in Israel. I have some secular Israeli friends who told me they heard mikvahs in Israel were dirty and gross. Before going any further I want to kill this notion. My mikvah experience was amazing, heavenly. If you're in Israel, go and experience the mikvah. It is absolutely wonderful. This mikvah was better than anything I experienced in the states.
We rented a kosher apartment in Rechavia. In the information booklet is a number for the local mikvah. I called them a few days earlier to make an appointment. I was informed no appointment was necessary, all I had to do was show up after 5pm and I could get ready there at my convenience. The mikvah is open seven days a week. I was skeptical but I decided to trust. In America I was asked to come to the mikvah ready, I was not used to having a space where I could actually spend some time preparing for the big dip.
I arrived at the mivkah confused. There was no grand entrance but I could read in Hebrew mikvah with an arrow pointing behind the building. I finally found a door but it was locked. I nearly gave up. I decided to try the other side of the building before going home. The other side of the building had a lovely door leading to a well lit walkway and the woman's entrance to the mivkah. I had found the men's entrance originally which isn't half as nice as the woman's side.
I walked in and nearly died in ecstasy. The place was gorgeous. Clean, beautiful, spa-like in design. When the woman at the front asked me if I wanted bath or shower I nearly keeled over. I haven't had a bath since leaving the States. I also have not had a hot shower more than twice since getting here. We learned yesterday that the heating element in our rooftop heater was broken. I went from taking daily hot baths to cold showers. It has probably been the hardest part of living in Israel. This morning I turned on the heater eagerly anticipating a hot shower, it was lukewarm at best. Still, it was a bit warmer than my daily cold showers so I am satisfied.
When I walked into the preparation room I was truly in ecstasy. I could barely speak. Right there in front of me was the most beautiful bathroom. There was a real bathtub that filled with hot, scalding water. I did not want to leave. When I was done I pushed the READY button and a lady opened the door leading to the mikvah from my room. Unlike at my local Chabad mikvah, she did not check me for any hairs on my hands or feet. She did ask if I checked myself and then encouraged me to get in.
The actual mikvah experience was very nice. I wish I could have had more time to sit and pray in the mivkah like the Chabad mikvah back home encourages me to do, but it's a busy mikvah and other women were waiting to dunk.
I left the mivkah completely relaxed. Every bone in my body melted under the heat of the hot bath and hot room. I was reluctant to return home to my balagan. I came home, Israeli cartoons were blasting, food was everywhere and a coffee table was overturned. I strongly considered turning around for a second round of dunking! So, if you're in Israel, don't be shy. Despite my lack of Hebrew and the mikvah lady's lack of English we did great, both of us happy to partake in such a special mitzvah.
And if you're curious to learn more about mikvah, here you go: http://www.chabad.org/theJewishWoman/article_cdo/aid/1541/jewish/The-Mikvah.htm
Finding living accommodations in Jerusalem is very tricky and very expensive. We initially rented a two bedroom apartment in Rechavia through a Craigslist ad I found in the comfort of my home in America. When we got here we found things we liked about the location and things we didn't like about the location and decided to find a different place to live.
Logan spent several days and evenings searching online and cold calling property managers trying to setup viewing appointments of apartments all over town.
We were torn on where we wanted to settle. We liked Nachlaot a lot. The old winding streets and homes echoed the Old City, while neighboring the shuk. We wanted a garden apartment, a bathtub and two bedrooms. There was exactly one apartment in Nachlaot that matched our criteria.
We toured the apartment shocked at how expensive the rent was relative to the dilapidated state of the structure, the mess of things the owner left everywhere and the enormous dumpster directly in front of the building stinking up a major section of the abode. We walked away disappointed.
We decided to widen our search and look at apartments along Jerusalem's light rail. We found an apartment within our price range and within walking distance of one of the light rail stops and it was a horror story (as my mother would say). We found another apartment in the city central, brand new and perfect. Once all the fees were added in I could not in good conscience rent out the place while living off of savings.
Apartments in Jerusalem are EXPENSIVE.
The rental market is nuts. When you rent a place you pay rent, typically a full month's rent to the property manager, property taxes and HOA fees. Once all of those fees add up you are easily paying hundreds of dollars per month over the rental price you see on the ad. Most of the properties we saw were investment vehicles. Jerusalem is not a big place. I wonder what percentage of apartments are owned by investors looking to make a profit in the real estate market.
I can't blame people for wanting to make money but I really feel for locals who have to compete with Westerners with Western paychecks who can afford the crazy rental prices. Incomes in Israel are much lower when compared with incomes in Western countries.
Renting here is really a crazy process. You have to repeatedly call property managers to get anyone to pick up the phone. And when they do pick up the phone they say, "I will call you back," and then they never call you back. You actually have to call them again and hope they will speak with you. No matter what you are discussing, if someone's cellphone rings, they will pick up their phone while you stand there in mid-sentence.
Also, property managers do not bother dressing up for you. Gym shoes and sloppy clothes are perfectly acceptable. Bicycles are preferred methods of transportation.
Everyone has kids. One kid, five kids, doesn't matter and they all love kids. One property manager gave us his sister's phone number because they have kids and we would like them and we should get ourselves invited over there for Shabbat.
When a place is listed as two bedrooms it's really one bedroom and a living room. One place was listed as two bedrooms, it was actually one bedroom and the owner said he really wants to list it as 2.5 bedrooms because it's the size of a 2.5 bedroom apartment. The rental market and Israel as a whole feels like a crazy place where everyone makes up their own rules.
However there is one rule most of the units we saw followed. All apartment furniture, walls and floors must be white. Again, it's a horror story. I have two kids, one who is bat shit crazy and has a fetish for covering everything within his reach with food.
Oh and garden apartment does not mean you don't have any stairs. The garden apartment we are currently renting has two flight of stairs. It doesn't make any sense. Then again, nothing in Israel seems to make any sense anyway.
We climbed higher and higher in a car with an overheating light flashing. I nervously looked at the light, the street, the light, the street - hoping we would reach our destination before smoke billowed out of the car. By the time we finally arrived I was ready to fly out of the car and kiss the ground. I decided to forgo a spectacle and jumped out, ran into the courtyard and started calling out to David, the property manager. I heard a "hello" two flights down and flew downstairs with Aaron in my arms.
I was craving a hot shower. I wanted a hot shower more than I wanted anything else; unfortunately we still had the property manager standing in the way.
Finally, we wrapped up details with David. I eagerly turned on the shower waiting for glorious hot steam to fill the tiny bathroom.
Only cold water greeted my fingers. I stared at the water willing it to turn hot. I turned the nozzle left and right and left and right and left and right - the water remained cold. It veered from cold to freezing. I fought back tears. I was tired; exhausted, mentally and emotionally worn down and all I wanted was a hot shower to cleanse me physically and energetically.
Finally after 30 minutes I gave up and turned off the water.
I accepted defeat urging Logan and the kids to leave the house in search of dinner. We piled the kids in the stroller and began our quest for food. We had no idea which direction to take. We picked one route and off we went. We walked and walked as it got colder and colder outside. We reached a point where our jackets were not enough insulation from the cold winds of Jerusalem. We were freezing, hungry and exhausted. Finally we found a sign for Mcdonalds. We gave up the search for schwarma and walked towards the Mcdonalds sign. As luck would have it we found a modern schwarma restaurant and went inside. The bitter winds of ice chased us inside.
We ordered food, sat down and tried to eat. Sadie fell asleep in the stroller hunched and cold. Aaron was manic, erratically running around and jumping on our laps. I had no patience for the meal.
I requested three to go boxes, was handed one, given a dirty look when I asked for two more and then handed one more. Fine. I stuffed the food in two boxes and off we went in search of our apartment. Did I mention it was cold? My jacket felt flimsy, completely unable to prevent the cold from seeping into my bones. We made it back before nightfall.
On our way down two flights of stairs to our "garden view" apartment a neighbor stopped us. She is an older lady, religious, with a warm smile. It seems Logan's cousins had stopped by with a bag of treats for us to enjoy on our first day here. Logan has two sets of cousins here in Israel. One set is Haredi, they are an extremely strict sect of Judaism. Another set of cousins are also religious Jews but they are not Haredi. The Haredi set brought us delicious snacks which we were thankful for in the middle of the night when jetlagged attacked.
The night was a miserable experience with Aaron and Sadie waking up around two in the morning demanding food and water. We ate dinner's leftovers, I mechanically stuffed myself with food to comfort my tired brain. About four hours later we went back to sleep.
Sadie woke up a few hours later ready to play. My eyes could not open. I stayed in bed cuddling Aaron while Logan entertained Sadie until we woke up. Aaron stayed in bed for hours, finally catching up on sleep.
While I was sleeping Logan spent the morning trying to get our luggage. He managed to get an Israeli number and have a time setup for the luggage drop off. Logan went off to find a shop with water because we were all feeling like camels in search of an oasis and the phone rang. Logan's phone rang. I nervously looked around unsure of my next move.
I picked up the phone, "hello?"
A man with a deep voice replied, "shalom."
I say, "shalom."
He responded, "shalom."
I, not feeling cheeky in the least, replied again, "shalom."
Exasperatedly he mumbled, "shalom, shalom, shalom, shalom."
Each shalom is a solemn bell tolling deeper finalizing our shaloms and forcing us on to the next topic of conversation.
"Hello," I replied.
"Yes, yes, okay, your luggage, I drop off between one and three."
My mother's strong Russian accent laced my words, "okay, but it would be very nice if you come at one and not three. We are stuck here. Hungry. Very nice. Okay?"
"Okay. I see vat I can do." I can hear him nodding in his truck.
Then he hung up.
Logan returned and by some miracle we only have to wait a few hours, luggage was dropped off by one. The driver literally stopped the truck, grabbed the suitcase, thumped it on to the sidewalk and left.
Fine. It was in the middle of the afternoon, we decided to go on an adventure with two kids and two parents. Honestly I can't remember the rest of the day. I think we walked around, Sadie cried a lot about being cold, kids slept in the stroller, we ate something and we came back to the apartment. I have a small memory of looking around me and wondering what the hell I did to my life. There was some deep understanding we were not on vacation and we had rented out our house and had decided to change everything and the change was upon us and I was not sure I was okay with what was occurring.
The night was another night of Aaron crying suffering from jet lag.
Friday we tried to visit the shuk. Our stroller barely moved through the sea of people and we decided to come back another day. We then headed towards the charedi part of town to find an affordable coat for Sadie. I saw a sign on a building advertising a mall. We walked past a dark tinted door doubting that could be the entrance to a mall. After a clear solid circle around the building without any grand flashy entrance we hesitatingly walked towards the door and entered the building. It was a mall. I am using the word mall here generously. It was a building, dark and dank, a few shops sat sadly neither beckoning visitors or deterring them. Rather, each storefront depressed the viewer. I wanted to either sit down and have a good cry or exit the mall quickly. Unfortunately at the end of six shops sat a fancy baby boutique filled with expensive French clothing. A couple with their baby were pawing at fancy hats while the shopkeeper showed me three beautiful coats for Sadie. All of them were around 350 and 400 shekels. In dollars they were around $100 each, way out of our price range. I thought they were beautiful. I wanted to buy one for Sadie anyway. I brought her in and she took one look, shook her head and declared she did not like them.
The round French shopkeeper floated over to me and asked, "well?' He spoke English beautifully with a French accent. I looked at Sadie nervously. "Sadie," I asked her, "do you not like the jackets because they are not pink?"
"Yes, mommy." She replied.
I looked at the shopkeeper, shrugged, threw out my hands wide and joked, "they're not pink, she wants pink, what can I do?"
Secretly I was relieved. Living on savings does not allow you to buy $100 jackets.
His rotundness turned away from me, his eyes rolled without being rolled. He was annoyed I continued to use his precious air in the shop. I tried saying "shalom" but he ignored me focusing solely on buying customers.
We left the mall nervous we were not going to find a coat for Sadie in time before Shabbat started and Jerusalem closed down. Logan's Charedi cousin told us to check out Bazaar Strauss. I imagined a large bazaar, another type of open air market filled with clothing. No, bazaar strauss was a tiny building with a cashier in the downstairs and a little setup of clothing on the second floor you had to climb a rundown set of stairs to get to. There were two different types of coats, three different types of skirts, a few types of shirts, this was a store that did not allow variety. You essentially had either option A or option B. They only had black coats. I talked Sadie into liking one of the coats because it had a fancy belt. For $25 she had a thick warm coat - the days of her crying in the stroller while wearing three sweatshirts and Logan's jacket were behind us! She also wanted to buy two long skirts, one of them was a long black one she wore for three days straight until even she agreed it was too dirty to wear again.
Walking quickly back to our apartment before Shabbat we walked past a tiny restaurant hidden in a nook of a building. Two men in their 20's were sitting outside bent over two bowls of soup. I could not help it, I was entranced. I have never seen two men in America sitting at a restaurant talking and eating soup. I had to know what kind of soup did this to hip, young men. I looked at the sign plastered to the glass of the restaurant and read "Kurdish Food," somewhere among all of the Hebrew. Inside was a tiny shop with a stove, six different types of pots and a man in his 30's hanging out. We walked in and he immediately handed Sadie a fried ball which he called Kube. From what I saw in the restaurant there are two types of Kube. There is deep fried Kube you eat like a snack or there is a softer, less crunchy Kube you eat in soup.
Kube are round balls of dough stuffed with ground meat. They are delicious. They are filling. The menu consisted of Kube soup. You could get beet Kube soup, sour Kube soup or tomato pumpkin Kube soup. When I asked him what the soups tasted like he asked me if I wanted a sample. A sample consisted of a small bowl, him reaching into one of the pots in front of him and a generous heaping of soup poured into the bowl. Suffice to say, I had to order a bowl of Kube soup. We sat outside next to the young men enjoying their soup. Neither of them finished their soup. They both got up 3/4th of the way and blew threw numerous cigarettes.
We made it back in time to light Shabbat candles, change and walk to Logan's cousins in the German Colony. Logan's cousin's wife made a fantastic meal, probably one of the tastiest I have enjoyed while on our trip here. We had a lovely time and enjoyed their company and their friends' company very much. We walked back home and I spent the night with Aaron as he cried repeatedly and suffered from another night of bad jet lag.
Shabbat. Day of rest. We played outside all day. The first few hours of the morning we sat outside in our garden area and watched Aaron chase the stray cats that lived in the garden. The neighbor on the third floor feeds the cats so there are many cats calling the backyard home. At one point Aaron decided to try eating a piece of cat poop, an action that sent me into a tizzy for an hour or so. While we sat outside the neighbor adjacent to us opened their window, stuck their head out and proceeded to engage us in conversation wishing us a good Shabbat. The husband and wife were dressed beautifully, Shabbat ready while Logan and I were practically in our pajamas trying to regain some sanity after another sleepless night. I tried apologizing about all the crying and was told repeatedly they were children, there was nothing I could do. In the afternoon we found a park where Sadie played with two boys whose parents were American immigrants. It was wonderful connecting with a young, Jewish couple with kids who shared similar interests.
I can happily say Saturday night was the first night Aaron did not demand to stay up through half of the night and although he woke up repeatedly I knew we were going to beat his jet lag.
To be continued...
One of my favorite places in all of Israel is the Mahane Yehuda Market or "the shuk." It's a huge market filled with merchants selling anything you can think of. You want freshly squeezed juice? Done. You want fresh fish? Done. You want any kind of kosher gummy? Done. You want meat? Done. You want amazing delicious cheeses? Done.
Need I go on?
Today we decided to spend the day at the shuk walking around and soaking in the sights. The open air market is an experience. We walked up and down the aisles watching people purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Today was a great day to go and take photos. When we went last Friday it was impossible to walk anywhere, it seemed all of Jerusalem was at the shuk purchasing food for shabbat.
I want to fill today's post with pictures of the shuk, not only one of the my favorite places in Israel but one of my favorite places in the world.
Thank God we made it. We initially had tickets to Israel for February 3rd. As life would have it, on February 2nd around two in the afternoon my husband received an email to check-in to our flight. On checking in we learned that our flight from New York to Israel was no longer happening! An entire leg of our trip was cancelled. I sat down in the arm chair next to my husband and felt relieved.
I had spent the past month completely freaked out about packing and getting on an airplane.
Two pm the night before our original flight and we were still not packed. We spent the morning and early afternoon visiting Logan's grandmother - leaving the last of packing to be finished in the evening. Several hours later with massive negotiating Logan managed to get us a flight to NY on February 4th and to fly with a different airline from New York to Jerusalem.
I am not sure we would have made it to Jerusalem if we were to fly out on our original flight. We packed until one am and still had to pack things the next day. We also needed to do a final run to our storage, exchange our new Target carry ons for new Cost-co carry ons, drop off things to our mailbox, pick up mail from our PO BOX and eat sushi with my family.
Three am February 4th, the alarm went off. It was game day. Logan's mom met us at my parents' house, my parents helped us get our kids into the car and off we went. While my kids sat in the car and my parents stood outside, my mother smiling and my father trying to hide his sadness, I felt a wave of sadness overcome me. I was leaving my family behind for the longest time I've ever left them. Two months many years ago was the last and the longest time I ever spent away from my parents.
We spent the last two weeks before our adventure living with my parents. It was quite the experience living at home again. My kids absolutely loved having their grandparents around them 24/7. I loved having my parents around. A house with my mother is a full house. She is a fireball of energy running around everywhere and doing everything all at once. I also realized my mother's house stays so beautifully clean because she spends hours every single day cleaning it. There is no magic other than lots of hard work.
Standing outside in my parents' driveway I understood the enormity of the adventure ahead of us. The past six months of planning and packing did not affect me in the same way that saying goodbye to my parents made me feel. Leaving my parents was leaving a part of myself. I love my parents a lot. They drive me nuts but at their core they are home. Since moving out of their house six years ago I did not feel part of their family life. I was a stranger, familiar and loved, but not part of their core group. The last two weeks was a wonderful flashback, a warm cocoon of feeling meaningful in their lives. A small part of me wanted to stay, to continue living in their upstairs bedroom and to be wrapped up in their world.
I said goodbye and hoped my hugs would convey how much I would miss them and how much I loved them.
The ride to the airport was quiet. Logan's mother rode in between the kids and I sat beside Logan as we drove on the freeway. The roads were empty. We arrived at the airport and circled around twice before finding the International Departures section. We parked curbside, emptied the car and were on our way. The next two hours were spent entertaining the kids, running circles around the airport and battling massive flying anxiety. My stomach churns just writing about the anxiety.
Thankfully it was smooth sailing all the way to New York. Initially Aaron fell asleep, he napped for about an hour into the flight. The rest of the flight we spent feeding and entertaining Aaron as he jumped all over us in boredom. Other than entertaining Aaron I spent the flight reading a book about overcoming anxiety. Strangely, it was comforting.
Upon landing in New York we entertained ourselves for two hours with food while chasing the kids up and down the floor escalator. The last hour was spent figuring out our tickets with the ELAL staff as people swarmed the gate. While standing in line watching streams of all kinds of Jews enter the gate area Logan looked at me and said, "it has begun." The last thirty minutes before boarding our flight Aaron ran around with another boy while Sadie jumped around and people dominated the gate area. I can't fully explain the difference between a flight of Jews and non-Jews but there is a difference. The gate area in San Diego was quiet, peaceful and orderly. The gate area in New York was dominated by people waiting to board the plane. There were kids everywhere. There was a group of loud teenagers yelling - hormones shooting out of every orifice. Logan stood talking to his sister on the phone while our kids ran in two different directions, our stroller and carry-ons were about ten feet away and his backpack ten feet away in the opposite direction from our stroller. My organized and efficient husband morphed into another ELAL passenger, crazy and loud. My head spun as I tried to watch the bags and chase after the kids while soaking in the chaos around me. I finally snapped when he was more interested talking on the phone than boarding the plane.
The flight to Jerusalem was a mess. Aaron refused to sleep. The first thirty minutes of the flight Aaron and Sadie slept, Logan and I thought we were in for a smooth ride. We were wrong. We were completely wrong. Neither child slept after the initial little snooze for the entire flight. Aaron switched from crying/screaming and running up and down the halls the entire flight. Our neighbors hated us. I hated us.
I watched the minutes countdown until we reached out destination. I tried ignoring the nagging image of our plane going down in flames in the middle of the ocean. Time moved in five minute increments. By the time we landed I was tired, stressed and ready to take a hot shower. I had no idea hot showers were a precious commodity, my instant hot water heater would become a distant dream I would think about fondly and often. We peeled ourselves off of our seats, bedraggled and tired. Baggage claim was a disappointment as one of our bags refused to show up on the conveyor. My American husband turned more Israeli as a women repeatedly touched our luggage searching for her bag and he finally quipped to her, "we don't have your bag."
An hour later we were filling out paperwork for our missing bag as Aaron screamed in frustration.
We wheeled all of our baggage out of the security area and walk to the book shop to meet with Eli, our driver. A tall, slender man with long payots walks up to us and asks, "Logan?" I'm surprised. Already Isreal surprises me as our driver is an Orthodox man. He helped us with our bags and takes out outside. We walk past several large, roomy modern vans and walk to up this:
Please imagine my ultimate bitchface. Imagine that glued to my face for twenty minutes as the men try to load the car. I really tried holding back bitchface. I really tried to roll with it. But as I looked back longingly at the large roomy van twenty feet behind me I can't help myself. Later Logan acknowledged he was impressed with my verbal restraint during the situation and then laughed about my bitchface.
On the drive up to Jerusalem I remarked how impressed I am the car is actually working. I was half-joking. The driver laughed and agreed, fully serious. I was tempted to jump out of the car in terror as the elevation increased, an image of our car rolling all the way down the mountain from the weight of our belongings. Aaron, our driver, (not Eli as we were told when we negotiated a driver) received a phone call as we climbed the mountain to Jerusalem. He was informed that we were about to sit in two hours of traffic. He got off the phone, scoffed and five minutes later we were sitting in two hours of traffic. The next twenty minutes we crawled to an area of construction on the road that would allow us to do an illegal u-turn. Aaron debated and debated and decided to take the u-turn despite the police officer 30 cars ahead of us. We proceeded to watch a series of trucks and cars take the illegal u-turn in front of the police. No one was arrested.
The two lane freeway was completely stopped, a police officer in a car behind us decided he wanted to cut through traffic. He turned on his lights and tried to ram his way through traffic. Cars refused to move. Aaron, our driver, followed the opening the cop made on the freeway - the two lane highway becoming a mash of cars with no rhyme or reason. It was total chaos.
Finally we entered the u-turn area. The original cop was still waiting to enter the freeway running the opposite direction. A group of us sat in our cars waited for him to u-turn so we could take our turn. Aaron finally remarked he was going to get out of the car and stop traffic so the cop could finally complete his u-turn. Thankfully the cop was able to finally get on the road and we were on our way. In seconds we were driving the back way to Jerusalem. We drove through a beautiful forested area and a checkpoint where a religious Jewish community lived opposite of an Arab town. Finally we entered Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is on a mountain, it is hills and valleys and pockets of homes and stones and people and cars and noise and history and modern and it's life. Jerusalem is a juxtaposition of old and young. Jerusalem is amazing. I was excited to finally feast on the sights of Jerusalem after nearly 2.5 years. I looked around eagerly until Aaron mumbled, "oh, the car is overheating." My heart stops. I imagine us pushing the damn car up all the mountains climbing higher and higher until we reach our home.
To be continued....
Meet the Blogger!
I'm a mom. A writer. A lover of good fantasy. A proponent of nursing when possible. A birth advocate. I am absolutely horrible at keeping my house clean or the dishes washed or the laundry done. I strongly believe in women having a positive birth. When we start to respect women's rights to birth the way they want, we can start to treat women as equal people in this world.
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