Friday, October 8, 2010

First Rain in Israel Greeted with Delight

Summer is officially over. The festival of Succot has finished and we now start to pray for rain. This year rain was forecast just over a week after the Succot celebrations had come to an end. It prompted me to finally get around to rolling up the bamboo roof from the succah and putting it in its case. The rest of the succah had been neatly packed away the day after the holiday. The roof however, is the worst post-Succot job for me.

The bag is long, thin and far too tight; I always need to roll and then re-roll the bamboo sheet in order to squeeze it into the bag, which only opens from one end. I always think it must have been designed by a man (excuse the reverse sexism) as any woman would surely have designed a big slit along the length of the bag with a plastic zip.

A Poetic Moment

As my son and I finally managed to store away our succah roof until next year, we watched as the leaves and blossoms blew off the trees making a colourful carpet on the ground. Out of the blue he said, “I love the smell of Autumn”. This is not the usual type of comment my boisterous twelve year old usually makes!

Joyous Rain Dance

First came the warning clouts of thunder, followed by a sudden deluge of rain. He ran outside, dancing in the first cool shower of the year, closely followed by his brother and sister. All of them enjoyed the liberating and curious feeling of the first drops of rain in a country that is 90+ degrees for much of the year.

I reflected on how strange it was that my kids, born and raised in England during their early childhood, should exalt to so much in a shower of rain. Just when did rain become a novelty factor? Just when did my kids cease being English and become Israeli?

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Kids Prosper

Life has been moving forward at quite a pace and my blog seems to have been somewhat neglected.

Generally we are embedding ourselves deeper into our Israeli lives and England seems forever further away and increasingly 'foreign'... yet somehow we don't quite feel like Israelis yet either. We lap up Israeli culture and have become accustomed to the ideosyncrasies of day to day life here in Israel; which now feels natural and normal to us all.

Most of the time we barely think about being 'olim' and the weeks and months pass by with their usual share of family dramas. So let's catch up with the family.

A Black Eye and a New School

The other week my son did one of his 'specials' - another of his inexplicable, senseless acts that end up wrecking havoc. He decided to throw a brick at a deflating ball to see if he could puncture it - he didn't; it bounced back and whacked him in the face and giving him a black eye.

He has just started a great new school, having struggled in the Israeli education system since we got here. Over repeated years we have taken the decision to switch his school after it was apparent to us that he would not prosper where he was. This was frowned upon by many in 'the system' but we felt that however unsettling it was for him it was better to seek a good match than settle for a bad one. He was unhappy, he wanted to move, he wasn't working, he wasn't moving forward - so why stay put?

We made some wrong choices but finally, last year was the first year he felt comfortable in a school. Unfortunately though his age group all had to move up to the next level in the school system this year so we were left looking for the right 'next step' after several wasted years in schools that simply didn't suit him and that he was unable to thrive in.

Looking for Inspiration

Initial signs at the new school are hopeful; he reports that his new teacher talks to them, "with a smile on her face" and so far he is responding really well to her lessons - which are taught with the big masses of information and instructions all broken down into more manageable chunks and then subsequently recapped and re-inforced before the kids are asked to undertake tasks.

This seems to tick all his boxes in terms of being a second language speaker and also having poor concentration; he is participating more in class discussions and is keen to read from the board, give his opinion and answer questions. He is producing more notes and even, dare I say it, enjoying being educated. Now there's a turn up for the books.

After three long years of wrong choices and one year that put him back on track but was only ever going to be a single year before the changeover - could we finally have found his place after all this time?

In life you sometimes just need one teacher to believe in you or to inspire you. Maybe, just maybe, we have found someone to ignite his fire and unleash his potential.

Super Nanny on Wheels

Over the summer my elder daughter took to roller blading but is yet to master the art of balance - she whizzed around manically, arms waving to remain upright yet somehow has avoided major injury.

She has been amazing over the long (2 month) summer holiday, helping to take care of my 3 year old in the time between her coming home from nursery and me returning from work.

She would make up backpacks with picnics and take her to the park; she would invent imaginative games to keep her amused or choreograph dance routines which would be performed on my return.

One memorable day I got off the bus and as the doors parted, there they stood, dressed up in pretty frocks and necklaces, looking so beautiful and holding out freshly picked flowers. I just wanted to close my eyes and etch the sight forever on my memory and engrave it on my heart.

Bilingual at Last

My sabra is now three years old and has suddently become bilingual. Having struggled to understand everything my Hebrew speaker said, it is as if, suddenly, someone has flipped an invisible switch and her English has instantly kicked in. Just in time for the family visits over the summer!

So there we are, you are up to date now with my family as we settle further into our lives here and each of us finds our feet. We are hopeful that the year ahead will enable us to thrive further as individuals and as a family unit.

Wishing all readers a sweet, happy, healthy, productive year ahead where you follow your dreams and make a success of your chosen path. Shana Tova.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Sleepover with a Difference!

My nine year old daughter often comes home excited about a planned sleepover at one friend’s house or another. She loves nothing better than to pack up a bag and spend the night sneaking snacks and playing cards under the covers.

This week she came home positively brimming with excitement. ‘Guess what Mum?’ she said, ‘I have been invited to have a sleepover with my teacher!’

Confused and Dithering!

So there I stood, totally confused with all sorts of thoughts and questions coming to mind. It turned out that a classmate of theirs spent the night at the teacher’s last week because no-one else could host her the night before a school trip that started early in the morning. The rest of the class got jealous and badgered the teacher to have a sleepover too. In the end she said three girls could stay over and my daughter was chosen as one of them as she had won the weekly class certificate for behavior and hard work.

There isn’t the smallest possibility of anything happening like this in the UK. I imagine that any school teacher making such a proposal would be promptly suspended and visited by social workers for thorough investigatation.

Our immediate thought was that it was totally inappropriate and to say no… but then we thought about it.

Yes or No...?

My daughter goes to a very small, close knit, religious, community school. Are we so tainted by modern social ills that we deny her the chance to enjoy feeling special and to have fun with a friend? Should we always assume the worst in people and deny individuals chances to carry out acts of kindness? Should we smear an innocent, well intended act with cynicism?

My daughter’s class teacher has two young kids of her own and lives fairly local to us. We live in the age of the mobile phone and can be in regular contact with her.

We have noticed that in Israel the teachers are much freer with the kids, particularly in smaller schools. In a previous school the teacher would stroke the kids’ faces and was always holding their hands and had a very close, motherly relationship with her class of young girls. It was particularly noticeable in contrast to the ‘no touching’ culture of UK schools.

Decision Made!

So anyway…. we let her go.

We worried the entire time that we were naïve, stupid, bad parents and more. I'd like to say we called her often to keep in touch and calm our nerves but our crazy 9 year old forgot to turn on her mobile! We felt jittery the whole time and to be honest, regretted our decision.

But... rest assured she had a great time! She loved her teacher’s young kids, she went to a show with her and her family and she came home having had a wonderful experience. We listened to her animatedly relating her stories and then breathed a heavy sigh of relief. Phew.

Did we do the right thing? Would you have done the same? Israel is a place criticized by the media as having a harsh, violent society with questionable standards. All I know is that family and community values are alive and well here in Israel whereas in the West the days of trust and innocence are well and truly over.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Simchat Torah - A Grand Finale

And so the holiday season has drawn to a close. Here in Israel, since the August break, life has never really wound back to normal. Instead we had a leisurely change of gear during September, with the return of work and school, but with many big projects, reorganizations, after school activities and normal school hours, not resuming until next week.

Whenever you asked something of someone over the past few weeks, the answer was always the same, “acharay hahagim” – after the holidays. Life in Israel was paused on half speed and today signaled the end of the festive season. But Simchat Torah is not really an ‘end’ it is surely a ‘grand finale’.

Today’s, Simchat Torah celebrations were joyous and manic. I watched as the men raced around the bima, torah scrolls held in the air or over their shoulders, singing in unison; the women looking on, making their own circles to dance in; clapping and singing along. I smiled at the boy propped on his father’s shoulders, wearing his over-sized jacket and two hats stacked one upon the other. Everyone was happy, celebrating the end of one cycle and the beginning of another.

And so Israel cranks up another gear to something that resembles normal speed. The women all start their diets and the kids their after school clubs. Please G-d our year will be full of health, happiness and peace. Amen.

Sharona B

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Still New After 3 Years?

Forever an Olah?

We have been in Israel for nearly three years now. I have had a baby in this country and am raising a Hebrew speaker. My older kids use Israeli hand gestures and speak Hebrew slang. We make lasagna using cottage cheese. But do we feel Israeli?

Last week we were waiting at a bus stop. When we had been there for a short while, an Israeli lady sat near us under the shelter. The kids were talking to each other in Hebrew and I was talking to my youngest in (very bad, heavily accented) Hebrew too. After a while she said to me, “How long have you been here?”

Assuming she had picked up on our accents, I answered, “Nearly three years now.”

“No,” she said. “How long have you been here.” As she had stressed the last word, I assumed she meant our yeshuv. “We’ve lived here for nearly two years,” I answered.

“No,” she said again. “How long have you been here.” This time, as well as stressing the last word she pointed downwards to the ground. Finally, I understood. “Oh, sorry. We’ve been at the bus stop for ten minutes!”

The exchange, although a little silly/embarrassing/funny (delete as you see fit) got me thinking about the fact that I may have an ‘olah’ mentality. When will I actually feel so at home that if someone asks me the same question, I will cease to automatically assume they see me as a newcomer.

Sharona B

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Israel Sliding Into Recession

Until now it had just been headlines in the paper but my foray today into two local towns brought home the fact that Israel is sliding into recession, alongside the rest of the world. For a while it seemed to be defying the trend, with little visible sign of an economic downturn. Now though, the reality is kicking in.

Today I ventured out to two local towns. It was a beautifully, hot, sunny day. The palm trees were waving in the gentle breeze and life appeared to be going on as normal. Music could be heard from various shops and buses; people were busily going about their business, perhaps on work or shopping activities; motorists were impatiently jamming their horns.. all seemed to be as it always is. And yet…

Whilst visiting the first town I noticed that a café I frequented had shut down and now had a man selling soft furnishings within the stripped down shop. It resembled a market stall and was selling seemingly cheap but quality-looking goods.

At the next town my favourite ‘tastes like home made’ cous cous café was closed and had been replaced by a makeshift falafel stand. Again the shop resembled a carcass, having been stripped down of all assets, giving it the feel of a squat.

The slowly emerging gaps along the high street and the emergence of ‘market stalls’ in vacant lots perhaps made me observe my surroundings more carefully. I was sad to see several people rooting through the rubbish bins (trash cans). These were not traditional ‘vagrants’ but were quite well dressed.

There were quite a lot of buskers on the street too. I passed one man who, farcically it seemed, was playing a violin with a music stand and sheet music propped up next to him. He screeched away at his instrument, seemingly incapable of playing a note. As I walked passed I thought it quite comical that he had taken the trouble to have the music stand next to him – perhaps to give him the air of a professional! However, my eyes gradually drifted to his hands and I noticed him awkwardly holding one hand against the wrong side of the bow. I thought this strange and then wondered whether his clumsy position might actually be the result of a stroke.

By the time I had taken this all in I was some distance away from him and my initial amusement had turned to pity. My short trip out had certainly turned into a depressing eye opener. But for the grace of G-d go I.

Sharona B

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Pesach Reflections

This pesach seemed to whizz by. We had a nice mix of going out to friends, venturing out on trips and spending time at home. We had seder by the Rabbi, which was most memorable due to the super strength maror which literally reduced us all to tears. I think steam was almost visible spouting out of our ears, in true cartoon fashion.

The kids had a great pesach break. Israel offers a wide range of chol chamoed family activities. Ours decided on a trip to the desert and learned a lot about the terrain – from identifying trees with hidden reserves of water within their branches to a bumpy camel ride.

I have decided that the magnetic messages we put on our fridge are a great barometer to life in the Benjamin house. They tend to sum up how we feel. We only have one of most letters so we have to be quite inventive in what we say. During pesach, this is what we wrote:

This week the fridge reads:

I will post up our fridge messages in my blogs; they probably say more about us than anything else I could write.

So, back to normal now. The kids are back at school and it is a return to the daily grind for us. When I dropped my daughter off at nursery today the pictures of matza and wine were down and up in their place were blue and white balloons in readiness for Remembrance and Independence Days. With hardly time to draw breath we seem to be moving on to the next holiday already. .

Monday, April 6, 2009

Pesach's A-Coming

Nearly there…. oven scrubbed, fridge dismantled, defrosted and de-chametzed, house starting to take shape. The pesach cleaning seems to be on schedule and, as fatigue starts to kick in, the end, thankfully appears to be in sight.

I’m looking forward sitting in my clean house without noticing a cobweb, some crumbs, some net curtains that need a clean. It will be nice to be able to sit down without subconsciously making a mental checklist of all those things still left to do.

Whilst my head has been full of the bigger picture it was interesting to find out via an email group posting, the answer to one of pesach’s timeless quandaries.

HOW TO CUT A MATZO IN HALF http://fun.mivzakon aspx?http: //www.mivzakon. es/matza. wmv Obvious when you know how!

Wishing you a happy and kosher pesach.

Sharona B

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pre Pesach Mayhem!

When you make aliyah there are many changes in your life – some big, some small, some expected, some not.

One of the pleasant surprises for me was the different array of nature I saw on an everyday basis. Now I am not talking about giant cockroaches or tarantulas here, I mean that I look up in at the trees in my garden and see colourful birds that I have never seen before. It occurs to me that perhaps the creatures I admire for being a little exotic and differing from the norm, are probably the Israeli equivalent of pigeons in the UK. However, I have retained an awe of all the different species around me.

This last week however, there was a less welcomed feathered friend on our patch. A stray chicken (yes you read that right!) seems to have taken up residence at the front of our house. I regularly feed a stray cat and from time to time I now hear an annoying, ‘peck, peck, peck’ as this nuisance of a fowl locates the cat food. Annoyingly, the cat is actually afraid of the chicken and allows her to steal her food.

My husband thinks she would make a nice Shabbat meal but I just want rid of her. I have chased her, thrown sticks at her, put emails out over the local network asking if anyone is missing a chicken and finally, changed the location of the cat food to the garden. The chicken does not seem particularly bright and, so far, has not realized what I have done. I am hoping the removal of the food will encourage her to find another foster home.

So, enough of my feathered fiasco... it is time to get cleaning for pesach. Perhaps, before she departs, I should pluck a feather from the chicken to help me search for chametz!

This post goes out to all those currently surrounded by buckets of hot water, bottles of cleaning products and an array of dusters and cloths. There is something quite therapeutic about pre pesach decluttering and cleaning but it is one of those things that you don't really appreciate until all the hard work is over and done with - whilst in the middle of the task you just have a never ending mental checklist of places still in need of a good scrub. Happy cleaning!

Sharona B

Suite 101