Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ants Invasion

The ants are out! Israeli bugs are a world apart from those we see in the UK. British bugs are rather puny in comparison. The ants here are big, determined and difficult to deter.

This morning I saw a few of them on my worktop so I swept them into the sink and put the tap on. I was surprised to find them relatively water resistant. They kept on struggling against the tide, so much so that rather than a swift, insignificant swill down the sink, I started to feel bad about killing these little creatures who were hanging on so dearly for their lives. I was in for another surprise when I tried to remove one; it flew away! So, the fight is on for the hygiene of my kitchen; it's me, all tooled up with a range of deterrents, against Israel’s finest giant, airborne, water resistant ants – let battle commence!

As if the invasion of the ants wasn’t bad enough, my week was to get even worse. The baby woke up spotty and itchy… just a week before her birthday she has come down with Chicken Pox. Tonight I duly bathed her then daubed calamine lotion over every spot. She looks like she’s had an accident with a pot of white paint. Well I guess the birthday pictures will be memorable if nothing else!

Sharona B

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Glowing Lag B'Omer

My son is one of those boys who loves dirt. He goes out clean and returns full of stains and interesting aromas. He always has bruised legs, an untucked shirt and disheveled hair. I send him out perfectly clean but this is how he always returns. Can you imagine how much fun Lag B’Omer is to a boy like him? The lure of the light and smell of a bonfire?

The excitement grew over the last few days, with the collection of sticks, branches and all things wooden, which were duly deposited on the site of the bonfire. On the night of Lag B’Omer he went over to some friends who had a bonfire by their house. He came back at various points during the evening, each time a little blacker but happier. They had been throwing sticks in the bonfire, toasting marshmellows and enjoying the heat, smoke and excitement of the experience

My daughter was celebrating with some of her friends. Both came home smelling like bonfires and were dispatched to the shower immediately.

During the evening, with the baby safely tucked up in bed, I went out to the bottom of the garden and looked down the hill. I was greeted by the site of sporadic orange glows. I breathed in the sweet, night air, tinged with the aroma of fire. Lag B’Omer in Israel feels like a true celebration and has certainly ingrained lasting, happy memories for my children.

This week the baby, now nearly one, has been practicing all her new tricks. She has recently started to walk a little. When she stands up now and takes a few steps, she immediately claps herself, obviously very proud of her newest achievement. Unfortunately as soon as she does this she looses her balance and slumps to the ground. She has also started to play ‘peekaboo’ with my hat and play her little xylophone. It is a lovely age.

Sharona B

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

School Report

I had a parents meeting in school this week for my daughter. Finally, after nearly two years in school, she is speaking Hebrew and doing well in her lessons.

For someone who excelled in England it has taken time and patience for her to settle into a new school environment and to master enough Hebrew to fully participate.

When we came here in August 2006 we were told by several people that by Chanuakah the kids would have mastered Hebrew and be fully immersed in school. If anyone is planning to make aliyah please, please do not take any notice of people who tell you this. I can assure you that it is the exception and not the rule. Maybe those parents enrolled their kids in intensive Hebrew after school or gave them ongoing homework help. Perhaps they had better Hebrew when they arrived here. Maybe they were just very bright and able kids. Our experience however, is that it took a lot longer and was more laborious than many told us.

We did not give our kids any ‘extras’. They had ulpan at school 2-3 times a week but, to be honest, it was a little ineffective. They came out able to sing all variety of Israeli folk songs and learned to translate them, resulting in them learning words like ‘orchard’ and ‘barley’! OK I am exaggerating a little, but ulpan did not really help them to understand their lessons, teachers' instructions or equip them to do their homework.

They learned best by sitting and listening – they picked up vocabulary for various school items first; ‘pen’, ‘pencil’, ‘pencil case’, ‘sharpener’ etc. They picked up playground words; ‘stop!’, ‘come on!’, ‘pass the ball!’, ‘penalty!’, ‘you’re it!’ etc. They picked up commands; ‘sit’, ‘stand’, ‘eat’, ‘hurry up!’

They picked learned to conjugate verbs – a little from the ulpan but mainly from listening to others – things just started to ‘sound right’ and slot into place.

We are nearly two years down the line and my kids maybe understand 70-80% of the content of their lessons. They need support in certain subjects and encouragement in others. Sometimes they can understand what they need to do and have the capacity to complete the task, but it takes them far longer to read and digest the instructions and formulate their answer than the rest of the class. Some days they get upset or come home frustrated. Other days they come home not understanding how to do their homework, either the instructions are too hard to read or maybe they just didn’t write it down accurately when it was set.

If you are thinking about aliyah please come with no expectations for your kids. One of mine is doing well, the other is struggling. Is it the school, is it the child, is it all the changes we have added to their lives? You cannot compare your children to others. You cannot compare your situation to others. You can simply do the best by your kids.

I have seen in various forums that some feel that making aliyah with older kids is not always wise. There are always reasons not to make aliyah. My kids have had good and bad experiences in Israeli schools, but when asked if they regret coming, if they want to return to the UK; both of them would not consider it.

For all the harsh reality of making aliyah; moving house/location (for us repeatedly), moving schools, having to make new friends, having to fit in, having to learn the language, having to start all over again… the quality of life is better here. The weather is nicer, the food is fresher, the views are amazing. To walk on the land of our ancestors, to tread the same path, is an ongoing thrill. To drive past the gravestones of biblical characters on the way to the shops is awe inspiring. To look around at road sweepers, bus drivers, shop keepers and know they are all Jewish is still remarkable for me. To see people from Russia, France, Somalia, Morocco, Iraq who are now Hebrew speaking Israelis is what Zionism was all about.

Yes it’s hard. Yes it’s a challenge. Yes it takes time to get established and make a new life. But it’s worth it. If making aliyah is anywhere on your radar, don’t be put off by pessimistic articles or hearsay. However, be realistic; you won’t be able to replicate your ‘old’ life here. You really will have to start all over again. Sometimes we get hung up on all the change; change is disruptive and stressful, but it is not always a bad thing. It can shake us out of a rut and show us a different, maybe even better, route. It’s all a matter of perception.

Sharona B

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Israeli Schools - Getting it Right

We have been in Israel for over 20 months now and during that time have moved three times.

We moved because we did not feel we had found ‘home’. Each move was in response to something negative (lack of community; too urban; not living in a religious area; not having the right quality of life; work/life balance…etc.)

Unfortunately, when we moved, as well as finding some of the benefits we were looking for, we also lost some of the good things in our previous day to day lives. Schooling, in particular, has proven to be a hard nut to crack. One child may be happy, another not; one school lacks something that another has; one school has friendlier, better controlled kids another has a bullying problem; one has better resources and learning support, another is less set up to cope with these needs.

Making decisions which are right for all members of the family is difficult. It is also true that problems that are experienced today often iron themselves out and can be worked through. I suppose there is a choice - staying and persevering to get things right or moving to find something which may (or may not) be better.

Life after aliyah throws up all of these challenges and, particularly where children are concerned, can make all the difference.

It’s always good to talk to other olim who have already been through the whole process of trying to find the best environment for their children. Here is the advice a few ‘veterans’ told me when I started to ask about school choices:

“Wherever you go you will find the same problems; it is not the school or the community, it is Israeli society”.

“Move and you may find the child who was unhappy has a better experience but the child who was happy does not….”

“You can move here, there and everywhere, but it won’t necessarily result in making everyone happy.”

“There is no comparison between what is in Israel with what you had back home – it is like apples and pears – just different”

Most olim, when you talk to them, made aliyah for their children, and ultimately it is the experience of the children that ends up dictating many of the decisions you make. You can plan your aliyah all you like, go on a pilot trip, speak to others… ultimately though you will be shaped by your own experiences and you would be extremely lucky to get it right first time.

My advice? Do your homework,

  • Talk to other parents, in particular find out the schools that the happy, well behaved, motivated kids go to.
  • Make visits during school hours so you can see how the kids behave in lessons and also during break.
  • Once your kids start school, ensure you have a good idea of how they are doing academically and socially.
  • Talk to the school, sort out any problems as early as possible and make sure you are able to benefit from all help available. If help is available, is it suitable in the current form? If it is not available, can it be made available?

To all of you planning aliyah – good luck. For all the difficulties, for all the ‘spanners in the works’, it is still a wonderful decision to make.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

British or Israeli?

Yom Ha’atzmaut triggers off thoughts of my own nationality. Here I am, an olah of 20 months. I have physically relocated. I (attempt to) speak the language. The junk food I eat is now falafel and hummus. I even succumbed to wearing Crocs. My Identity Card lists me as Israeli. I have an Israeli passport. To the outside world I am branded Israeli. But in my heart do I feel it?

The truth is that when I am in Israel I sometimes feel more British than Israeli. It bugs me that people can be so warm and caring yet have no time for day to day manners; for politeness; for queues. It is just not natural for me to take something from someone and not to thank them; to push past a mother carrying a baby to get on the bus before her; to ignore someone who I am obstructing and continue (slowly) without moving aside; to take a call on a cell phone while I am serving someone. It is all alien to me.

On the other hand, when I return to the UK I don’t feel so British at all; I feel conscious of my appearance, customs and attitude. I feel different.

So what am I? British/Israeli? Israeli/British? Just one or the other?

When it comes down to it, does it really matter? Aside from war or international football matches, when do you think of your nationality?

I think, having considered the choices, that maybe I am just Jewish.

Sharona B

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Yom Ha’atzmaut

It is significant that Yom Ha’atzmaut follows Yom HaZikaron; from our humble beginnings we have created a modern, democratic state. As always in Judaism, happiness is always tinged with sadness. Shimon Peres mentioned in his speech yesterday that Israel has lost , “…wonderful generations of tomorrow. We have lost our beloved children”. I don’t often agree with Peres’ words, but he does at times capture the moment. If only our ‘lost children’ could have had the chance to live and enjoy Israel today.

After a day of sirens, ceremonies and sorrow Israel got up, dusted herself down and got on with the business of celebrating her 60th birthday.

Last night we had a communal celebration - bouncy castles, flags, food and music. Today we continued our celebrations and, like most Israelis, went to a barbecue with friends.

There is so much to be proud of in Israel. A small country, the size of Wales, Israel has produced disproportionate advancements in the scientific, agricultural, technical, medical and other fields. There is an entrepreneurial spirit here, a ‘can do’ attitude, an arrogance, that applied in the right direction is a key attribute to success.

On Yom Ha’atzmaut it is important to not only celebrate all that the State of Israel has become, but to dwell on the fact that we are so blessed to have a state at all.

For 2000 years Jews prayed towards a Jerusalem over which they did not reign. For me the most effective reminder of the sanctity of Israel is to recall all those generations before us who yearned for so long to have a Jewish homeland. The words of Hatikva, (‘The Hope’) our national anthem, sum up the loss felt for so long. It evokes feelings of gratitude that Israel exists today as the only Jewish state in the world. For all the bad press she gets, for all the political ineptitude and corruption, Israel still makes me surge with pride.


As long as deep in the heart,
The soul of a Jew yearns,
And forward to the East
To Zion, an eye looks
Our hope will not be lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free nation in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.

Sharona B

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Yom HaZikaron

The Remembrance Day for Israel’s soldiers started last night. The television screened footage documenting the all too short lives of many fallen heroes. We hear their families, friends and army colleagues describe them, bringing alive the video snippets and photos that we see on the screen. They talk about the special qualities and achievements of their loved ones, tears rolling down their cheeks.

We see vivacious, carefree teenagers and young people celebrating with friends and family at weddings, bar mitzvahs and on holiday. They paid the ultimate price to keep Israel safe.

They all died too young, denied further friendships, experiences, successes, children; denied a future, whatever that may have brought. Watching the footage and listening to the personal stories of one family after another is heartbreaking.

The scale of death from war after war can sometimes be hard to comprehend. Like the Holocaust, an enormity sometimes just too immense to fathom, the telling of individual stories is an effective way for us to be able to effectively mourn those who gave their lives so that we and our children can live in Israel today.

The sirens sound and we think of these brave young men and women. We say a prayer for them and hope, beyond hope, that our own children will have a future of peace and security.

Sharona B

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Kids Are Smart!

Over Shabbat the baby took her first tentative steps. She is exactly eleven months old. She can manage up to seven steps then slumps down on her backside and claps and smiles, mimicking our enthusiastic response to her new trick. It is such a landmark – a transition from a baby to a toddler. Let’s just hope all this new found maturity will result in her sleeping at night!

Breaking News: The Comeback Kid is back! After going missing for a couple of days I discovered the tortoise at the bottom of a drain well. I spent some time blocking up gaps to make the garden as safe as possible. My daughter has decided that ‘he’ is a ‘she’ and finally a name has been decided upon - ‘Miri’

Last week my son came home from school with a request to bake some muffins for a school sale. All proceeds were to buy extra resources for the school. My eight year old daughter decided that she and I would bake them together. Tonight we had a nice session sieving flour, cracking eggs and generally making a mess. Whilst we were baking she asked me what the muffins were for. I explained to her and could see that she was giving this some thought.

“So all the parents are making treats and then giving money to the children to buy the treats?” she said.

“That’s right”, I said.

“And all the money raised is to buy books and things for the school?”

“Yes”, I said.

“Then why”, came the considered response, “don’t the parents just donate money to the school?”

She had stumped me. Why indeed! What a rigmarole for the same outcome! Sometimes kids are smart!

Sharona B

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Yom HaShoah

It has been Yom HaShoah today, commemorating the victims of the Holocaust.

Being a mother adds another dimension to my understanding of the Shoah. I can only imagine the anguish of a mother in 1930’s Europe, whose natural instinct is to protect her children, having to cope in such a heinous situation.

I found a moving poem on the internet which highlights the impact of the Shoah from the perspective of the children. It is a little painful to read and yet beautiful and poignant too.

Holocaust by Barbara Sonek

We played, we laughed
We were loved.
We were ripped from the arms of our parents and thrown into the fire.
We were nothing more than children.
We had a future.
We were going to be lawyers, rabbis, wives, teachers, mothers.
We had dreams, then we had no hope.
We were taken away in the dead of night like cattle in cars, no air to breathe smothering, crying, starving, dying.
Separated from the world to be no more.
From the ashes, hear our plea.
This atrocity to mankind cannot happen again.
Remember us, for we were the children whose dreams and lives were stolen away.

But for the grace of G-d go I.

Last night we watched the national ceremony which involved testimony from survivors. It narrated their harrowing stories and detailed their lives before, during and after the Holocaust. It is a testament to a strong human spirit that many of these people, damaged by their experiences in death camps and from the trauma of losing their families, still managed to find the strength and fortitude to contribute so greatly to the building of the new State of Israel.

The children stayed up a little late last night. We explained, as best we could, what the Holocaust was. We wanted them to understand that today they were able to be openly Jewish but that they should not take this for granted. We explained that people were killed for no reason other than their religion or because they were perceived to be different. We reminded them that some members of our own family had been caught up in the Shoah. We stood in silence, lit our yorkseit candle and my husband recited kaddish.

This morning the sirens sounded and there was a minute’s silence. We took a few moments to offer a silent prayer for those lost.

May their dear souls rest in peace.

Sharona B