Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Moment To Reflect

This week my daughter had an, ‘I don’t know what to do’ moment. I was in the middle of doing something and said the first thing that came into my mind. We have several volumes of photos all neatly put into albums in chronological order. Sometimes we look at these, but more often than not we take out a battered old shoe box containing all those photos that never made the albums. I am not sure why. Perhaps it is because we like the feeling of holding the photos, perhaps it is the haphazard order of the photos, adding that element of surprise as we flick through them.

Remembering how my daughter likes to look at these photos I told her to go and look through the box and find some photos that showed things she missed, some that showed things that made her happy and others that made her laugh. It did the trick; she scuttled off on her mission, leaving me free to complete whatever chore I was in the middle of.

Later on we sat down together and discussed her choices. It was quite revealing in some ways and a nice activity. So, here are her choices and the reason she chose them:

Things she misses:
  • A picture of Ariel, the cat we had in the UK. We decided not to take him on aliyah as we knew we were going to move about a bit initially and thought it would be unsettling for him. He ended up living on a farm.
  • A picture of her and her brother as toddlers, sharing a bath together. They are covered in bubble bath ‘mustaches’ and ‘beards’. The house we are renting now only has a shower and all of us miss having a nice, long, soak in the tub.
  • A picture of her and her brother crouching down, surrounded by white, crisp snow, with a recently made snowman proudly displayed between them. She has very fond memories of playing out in the snow, not exactly a common pursuit in Israel.
  • A photo of her and her granddad. We don’t get to see him as often as other relatives and she wishes that she was able to see more of him.

Things that make her laugh:

  • A picture of her riding a horse during a day out at a farm. She is as big as a minute with a cumbersome helmet on. She thinks it’s a great photo. It reminds her of a nice day out and she just looks funny being so small on top of a big horse.
  • A photo of her in her stroller. This makes her laugh because we often relate stories to her about how she always hated walking and we had to lug that buggy everywhere with us or carry her. We say she was like a spoilt princess who didn’t deign to walk.

Things that make her happy;

  • She chose a couple of pictures of her and her brother holding hands, hugging and being close. They have got to an age when they do not get on as well as they used to and my daughter misses the previous closeness which these photos represent.

  • A picture of her riding her scooter in the back alley behind our house. She and her brother spent many a happy hour there, riding up and down, kicking a ball about, playing with the neighbours’ dogs etc. It was a very unexceptional photo that captured a very routine part of her week. It did however remind her of carefree times out after school and over the weekend, again being best buddies with her brother.

I am really pleased we sat down together and did this. It sparked a lovely conversation and was a good way for her to voice a few concerns.

Sharona B

Monday, June 23, 2008

Down on Their Luck

We are brought up to always think of those less fortunate than ourselves. We are taught that giving tsedaka (charity) should be a natural and ongoing part of our daily lives.

Since moving to Israel I have been surprised by how many people look to benefit from this mindset. I have never had so many strangers arrive at my door, presenting me with pages of neatly displayed endorsement letters from rabbis, requesting their share of the contents of my purse.

It is hard to turn them away; they all have a sob story and have fallen upon hard times. They all look a little ‘weather beaten’ by life. They have ill family members and need help to fund their treatment; they are unable to work due to illness/accident and need help to feed their families… I hate to turn people away. I always think, ‘What a terrible story; what would I do if I was in that position?’

I think maybe that I am starting to become a little Israeli now. I am starting to harden a little. I am beginning to think that, if I was in that position, would I go door to door expecting someone to fund my misfortune?

Tonight I gave someone some money. It was not a lot but it was not a little either. I was a little shocked and upset when he told me that it was not enough, he needed more. I told him that if everyone gave what I did then he would be fine. I closed the door and wondered how I could feel deflated after giving tsedeka.

It is a shame to doubt the authenticity or motivation of some of these people. Certainly if I were (G-d forbid) in any of their situations, and if I did choose to go door to door; I cannot see any circumstance where I would not gratefully receive any money that came my way.

I think from now on 100% of my tsedaka goes through my rabbi or to people I know. I have had enough of being made to feel guilty when trying to do good.

Sharona B

Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Cleverest Boy Ever!

I always ask my kids what they learned at school. I like to hear about their day but also I can determine their level of understanding and whether their Hebrew is improving. Certain subjects are harder than others, either they are taught in a ‘wordy’ way with fewer visual clues or maybe the vocabulary is quite specific and not what they come across in the ‘real world’.

This week my son came home from school and told me that he had learned all about deserts. I told him to tell me all about them and he got very excited. ‘Do you know what a desert looks like?’ he said. I described what most of us would, an arid, sandy, dune-filled terrain. With a sparkle in his eye he told me that he had learned all about cold, snowy deserts. My husband and I looked at each other. Had he misunderstood something in the lesson? Was he joking around with us?

But no, he was insistent; the arctic is a desert. After much debate I went on the internet. Sure enough a desert is classified as somewhere arid, extremely sparsely vegetated with a land devoid of earth. I even found an article about the ‘polar desert’ and another titled ‘Why the Arctic is a Desert’.

Well, well, well, you learn something everyday. I am not sure if the definition of a desert has changed but my husband and I certainly went through primary and secondary school without being taught this in Geography.

So now my son is walking around as if he is a genius. He got one over on mum and dad! He is the cleverest boy ever!!

Sharona B

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hebrew Causes Maths Confusion

I was helping my daughter with her maths homework today. She and her friend (originally from the US) where having problems understanding tens and units. I went through it several times and they continued to get confused. Finally I worked out that the root of their confusion related to their switch from English to Hebrew; they now worked from right to left, not left to right and were therefore reading their numbers the wrong way round, ie 12 was read as 21 with the tens and units switched over. Once I explained that numbers should be read, ‘the English way’, they soon got the hang of it. I think this typifies some of the unexpected difficulties children sometimes have.

We find it easy to identify and respond to straight forward language difficulties but the switch in text direction also carries with it areas of confusion. Since coming to Israel my daughter has resumed some basic writing errors she had when she was much younger, eg. writing 9 as a P or 5 as a 2. Again it is the change of direction which has sparked this. Not only has she picked up errors but we discovered that she writes English with her right hand and Hebrew with her left. For some reason she just finds it easier.

I have not only had problems with ‘left and right’ this week but have had my share of difficulty with ‘up and down’ too. This week saw the installation of a stair gate in our house. Since the baby started walking she has become obsessed by getting into every nook and cranny and particularly likes climbing the stairs. The other day I took something out of the oven and in those few seconds she had reached the stairs and climbed half way up. I left the kitchen and looked for her but as I did so I heard, ‘thump, thump, thump… waaaa!’. The poor little thing had fallen down and lay flat on the floor in a state of alarm. There was that long silence and gulping of breath before the wail was emitted, which as all parents know, is a sure sign they are shocked and hurt. I scooped her up and comforted her. There was no damage and she was soon right as rain.

So today the stair gate is up and that is one less trouble spot she can get into. No sooner was it up then she had another accident. We were out in the garden and she was wandering around looking up at the trees and enjoying the exciting sights and smells that surrounded her. Suddenly she came across a ball and decided to pick it up. Unfortunately for her she was next to a tree and as she bent down she banged her head against it. Unluckily, the tree she chose has bark which is covered in prickles. Poor thing, I think, at this age, they can turn the most innocent objects into a danger zone, even stationary trees.

Sharona B

Saturday, June 14, 2008

An Extra Packet of Pretzels

It’s strange how things work out. Just before Shabbat I was in the supermarket getting a few last minute bits and pieces. I was at the till when my neighbor said hello and mentioned that the pretzels in my basket were on offer – two for a cheaper price. I said I only wanted one packet but noticed she had a packet in her trolley too. I reached over and put her packet through the checkout so that we made the most of the offer. There followed the charade of her trying to throw a few shekels to me and me refusing. Finally she said that she was going to get a second packet as she had decided she wanted two anyway! In the end she bought another two and I kept my two and we laughed about all the confusion. I didn’t think too much more about the incident.

We had friends from the UK staying this Shabbat and the Rabbi had agreed with my husband that it would be nice to have a kiddish after shul. However, during the week my husband didn’t think to remind the Rabbi, and the Rabbi, who had a particularly busy week, unfortunately forgot.

When my husband got to shul he noticed the fridge was bare but also saw that a few extra people had come to shul, expecting a kiddish. He dispatched my son home to me to see what could be done. I rustled together all sorts of nibbly bits from my cupboards… including the extra packet of pretzels!

It’s a funny old world!

Sharona B

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A sweltering Shavuot

It’s a good thing that we eat ice cream on Shavuot. The day commenced with a bright, scorching sun, accompanied by a hot, dry breeze which combined to make an uncomfortable, heavy heat. It was the kind of heat that makes you aware of the weight of your body; that gives you the sensation of dragging your heavy bones along, hauling your body one step at a time towards your destination.

The walk to shul was exhausting. Although there is a shul just a few minutes from our house, we attend one which is twenty minutes away. With the buggy to push and the blazing sun above us, we made slow progress. We finally arrived red-cheeked and puffed out but instantaneously delirious as we felt the air conditioning sooth away our discomfort.

We fulfilled the obligation to listen to the Book of Ruth and the Ten Commandments and then retreated back home beneath the unrelenting rays of the midday sun.

I was not brought up in a religious environment and when I learn very simple things that are almost insignificant to others more learned than me, I get quite excited.

This Shavuot I looked into why we eat dairy foods. There were lots of reasons from all sorts of sources. The most commonly cited one relates to the Torah introducing the idea of kashrut and therefore there being a delay to prepare meat, utensils etc. in the appropriate manner; necessitating a milchig meal. However, the fact that impressed me the most was finding out about the numerical value for the word ‘chalav’ (milk). When the value of each letter is added up it equals 40. Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai receiving the Torah and when he came down it was ‘chalavy’ food that was consumed.

We certainly enjoyed our Shavuot food this year - particularly the ice cream.

Sharona B

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A boy needs a bike

I bought an old, second had bike recently. Only one brake works and the handlebars don’t quite lengthen to the correct height; it is a little rickety but it does the job. After I got it home it occurred to me that I hadn’t ridden a bike for nearly 30 years. We often use the parallel of riding a bike to describe how we never forget certain skills. I was now about to find out how true the old adage was!

It was a strange feeling to be cycling again after so long. As I coasted down hills I was reminded of distant childhood memories; the thrill and the freedom of speeding down slopes. I felt invigorated as I continued my journey.. that is, until those downward hills reversed into uphill slopes. I puffed up and panted, disappointed with myself at my wretched efforts to scale even relatively gentle slopes. Some hills proved too much of a challenge and I had to dismount and walk up them. As I did so my legs wobbled and ached from the effort. My breathing was labored and quick as my body protested about the stamina required of it to cope with my new pursuit.

I went out a couple of days later and was pleased that I fared a little better. It still proved difficult to cope with the hills but I did manage to stay on the bike for the entire journey, even though anyone seeing me struggle pathetically up those hills would probably have taken pity on me and offered to give me a push. I am hoping to build up my strength and am determined to get to the point where I don’t arrive home gasping for water and needing to sit down to catch my breath. I never realized how unfit I was. We don’t have a car and I walk everywhere so I am by no means new to regular exercise. But the bike; well, I have to admit it, the bike very nearly beat me. Not quite though, and if nothing else, I am a very determined person and I will persevere.

We also got my son’s bike repaired after months of it being out of action. He was itching to get back onto it again and as soon as the last nut was tightened he jumped onto the seat and sped off for a ride around the block. He came back excited and happy. I am of the opinion that boys really only need 3 things in life to keep them amused; a ball, a bike and a box of marbles; everything else is just superfluous.

Sharona B