It is hard to know exactly where or how to begin. While Scott has written quite a lot for each day we have been here, I’ve also filled up pages of my journal, chronicling my adventures with Shayna, Nadiv and Maital. Some fairly mundane adventures, but simply going down the street to the grocery store can be an ordeal, believe me.
I will be returning changed. Some ways are obvious (the 10 pounds I’m carrying home from eating my fill of fantastic kosher food) and some are less so (thoughts about covering my hair, Mikvah, other lifestyle changes). I am curious to see how this time here will affect our lives in San Diego.
I thought I would simply touch upon some of the highlights with the children, as well as share the things I’ve learned or observed about Israel. I hope this will help fill in some of the blanks of what has been happening with the rest of the Meltzers while Scott has been in school.
To begin are some things that have amazed, baffled and confused me since our arrival. I realize that I am a spoiled American, used to so many conveniences that it is a bit of an adjustment to do without. For example, no garbage disposal, no dishwasher, and trash has to go down 8 flights to an outdoor bin by the street. The elevator barely holds 3 people comfortably. To go up and down, I have to fold up the double stroller, while holding or having Shayna holding Maital’s hand so she doesn’t go up or down the stairs. I have to flip on the hot water switch for showers and there is no water pressure. The double stroller doesn’t fit on all sidewalks so I’ve often had slightly terrifying walks in the street with cars whizzing by. They also don’t tend to stop for pedestrians, even if you have two in a stroller and another by the hand. The streets are also better suited to big- wheeled jogging strollers, but then it wouldn’t fit in the back of a monit (cab). Speaking of driving, forget road rage here. They certainly honk before the light changes color, but it is more like being frustrated with a relative. I actually saw a driver verbally scold another for unsuccessfully attempting a maneuver that ended up blocking traffic. A woman at the park told me Maital was sitting in dirt, as if I didn’t know. I was just happy she was sitting! People will bump into you in crowded places and “tsk” as if you jumped in their path. Others will rush to help you struggle a heavy stroller down steps. People told me not to worry, that everyone here speaks English. That is almost true, but I shouldn’t have that expectation. I am embarrassed by my lack of language skills, and plan on taking an ulpan next summer. Some people have been incredibly warm and friendly and as Shabbat nears, it is neat to hear “Shabbat Shalom” from the lady at the bakery counter, or a jogger passing us on the street. The more time that has passed, the more comfortable I feel, excited to be in this country and to share it with Scott and our children. I hope that my relationship with Israel, a bit complicated still, continues to grow stronger.
The rest of my comments will start in Jerusalem, since we were all with Scott every day up until that point. I have one exception, a comment from our time in Beit Shemesh. On Shabbat, we joined Scott’s cousin Sandy and her husband Buddy as they led a children’s service. Certainly the knowledge of Hebrew makes a huge difference, but it got me thinking about what we could do for a Junior Congregation service, perhaps one Saturday a month. It could be a significant opportunity for our children to learn the morning service in a serious way, with a discussion about the week’s parasha. Something to consider.
7/3 My time apart from Scott began the day after Maital’s accident. I don’t believe his website indicated that I slept overnight in the hospital with Maital during her 24 hours of observation. Not the most comfortable experience, and I was surprised we both managed to sleep! I was very glad that my sister and parents were both arriving on the 3rd. (Since the accident, I’ve been very uncomfortable in our apartment. The couches are turned around, the coffee table put in a back bedroom and we have to follow her around because the doors to the rooms cannot be closed securely. These hard stone floors with no coverings make me wonder how any children in Israel avoid some type of head trauma.) In the evening we took Hilary to the Kotel. It was amazing to be back there. There is something so comforting about pressing your hand and your head against the wall. It is hard to explain the feeling but I felt safe and protected. We then walked a little ways into the Old City. I lived within the walls of the Old City for three weeks in 1994/95 as part of a program with Aish HaTorah. I no longer know the streets like the back of my hand, but it still felt familiar, like I was returning home after a long time. I mentioned that it had a familiar smell, and Scott laughed and said it was sewage!
7/4 We had an arranged tour of Jerusalem with a nice guide named Yosi. The first day we took a tour of the Old City (the Yishuv Museum and Cardo, but not the Kotel), Yemen Moshe and Mea She’arim. Overall it was a tough day – the kids had a very difficult time. By the end of the tour, Nadiv decided to pick up a bee (I have no idea why) and got stung. Truthfully, I was glad when the day ended.
7/5 This was the second day of our Jerusalem tour. Yosi made some changes to be more accommodating to the children and it was wonderful. The tour at Har Herzl was great. They have a movie presentation while we moved from room to room and the kids loved it. We visited the graves of Herzl and Rabin, and talked to the kids about leaving stones. From Har Herzl we headed to Ein Yael, the most fantastic place. It is a 4,000 year old city that they have excavated and recreated. There are camps there (Shayna may go there or Camp Ramah next year) and a bunch of hands-on activities for the kids. Shayna and Nadiv made clay bowls, mosaics, frescos and even their own pita with chocolate spread. The adults enjoyed it as well! We stopped at the food court of a nearby mall (Kenyon) for lunch. It was such a treat to know I could eat ANYTHING I wanted. I selected Chinese, since I never get meat Chinese food at the malls at home. We didn’t do much the rest of the day.
7/6 Scott already talked about Masada, and the Dead Sea, which I hope the kids will try to float in next year. That evening Scott and I had dinner at the Hartmans’, so we left the kids with my parents and sister and first went to services at Shira Chadasha. I must admit, it was lovely to pray without the distractions of my kids. I also didn’t notice many children there. The women’s side was HUGE, much larger than the men’s side. And the harmonies were just beautiful. It was neat to be in an Orthodox service where women lead part of the davening and the women were focused on participating, not talking amongst themselves. I found the mechitza to be peaceful, comforting, not a negative separation. An interesting note about this Synagogue: to have a minyan, they count 10 men AND 10 women, not either or. Fascinating.
7/8 My father had a tough time after our walk to the Tayelet on Shabbat. While my parents went to the doctor and my sister went to the Old City, I hung out with the kids. It was really tough. I’ve had many days wondering how I will do it when I am completely alone. It is hard to remember that this is not a vacation. I haven’t been to Israel in 10 years, and with my parents and sister here, it is easy to think in vacation terms (I’m certainly eating that way). But that isn’t why we are here. We have actually seen a great deal, but I need to think of just living day to day, much as I get through days at home. Fortunately, with my parents here, I had the opportunity to sneak away a few times and take a nap or simply have a break. The day ended well with a meal at Beit Ticho – on HaRav Kook, off of Jaffa Street. We ate outdoors in a quiet and peaceful garden. It felt calm, the kids were great and the food was fantastic.
7/9 Today we went to the Israel Museum. They were supposed to have kids activities, but unfortunately, only on Tuesday afternoons from 4 to 7pm (too late for my kids) and on Fridays when Scott is home. But we still had a nice morning. It was neat to see the scrolls (particularly the facsimile of the Isaiah scroll – the size is impressive), but I can’t wait to see the exhibit at home. I think it will be more exciting than the exhibit here. Scott wrote about the BBQ at the Fuchsberg Center, but left out one little piece. I was asked, during a random conversation, to be the Mikvah lady for a conversion. Scott answered yes before I could get any words out. I’m quite nervous and hope it goes well.
7/10 Well, my little sister has strep. With that excitement going on, I took the kids to the park at Gan Sachar, across a busy street from our apartment. It was amazing to watch the religious girls running around in that heat in long skirts, long sleeves, tights, tennis shoes and hats. I would have passed out. That evening we were on Ben Yehuda street, and I was able to show Scott a ceramic Havdalah set I was interested in for our niece or nephew (they recently had their B’nai Mitzvah, and we told them we would bring them back Havdalah sets from Israel). The set was great, but the saleslady snapped at our ignorance – we couldn’t immediately distinguish between the rimon (pomegranate) and the flower of the rimon as part of a design. Needless to say, we won’t be buying anything there. (Don’t worry, Josh and Sam, we got some great stuff!)
7/11 Today was Mikvah Day. I took a cab to Kehilat Moreshet Avraham, a Conservative (Masorti) synagogue. An entire family was undergoing their Beit Din, then we all headed out to the Mikvah. Another woman, who had completed her Beit Din already, was joining us for the Mikvah. During the drive to the Mikvah, which is a cave on someone’s property that is not terribly clean, with cold water (thankfully it was a hot day) and no separate bathroom in which to change, Rabbi Andy Sacks spoke to me about the issues faced by the non-Orthodox when it comes to accessing Mikva’ot in Israel. It is nothing I could intelligently restate here, but fascinating and complicated stuff. I watched the women (and the young children), and helped them with the blessings. I have used the Mikvah before my wedding, and created a Mikvah ceremony, but this was the first time I have watched and led the blessings. It was powerful, even in that old and dark cave.
The Mikvah experience really has me thinking not only about using it again, but also about the need our community has for a Mikvah accessible to all. People converting through the Conservative movement should be able to use a Mikvah. Brides preparing for their wedding days should be able to use a Mikvah (not always the case here). I am hopeful we can someday make this dream a reality. In the meantime, I will be rereading Aryeh Kaplan’s “Waters of Eden” and building up a case for our community.
7/12 Today was day one of our big Tiyul up north. We went to Caesaria (amazing excavations), Daliyat El Carmel (best falafel at lunch), Haifa (the Bahai Hanging Gardens are stunning), Acco (we can’t believe the Crusaders stopped long enough to build those impressive structures), and finally, Tiveria (great hotel on the water and LOVELY showers!!). The kids were amazing the whole day. During our drive, our tour guide, Ozzy, pointed out the wall separating us from the West Bank. It doesn’t seem like much to look at but represents so much. Frankly, I felt a bit nervous in areas and curious to know how the Palestinians are living in others. I have family from Ramallah and only know them to be loving and generous. It is hard to think of the pain, distrust and fear each side has caused the other. In Acco, Ozzy showed us the old prison where the British took the Jews after the King David bombing. He said his wife’s uncle was shot and killed during the prison break. Ozzy was born in a Concentration Camp and was sent by his mother to Israel with his brother. They reunited seven years later. He currently lives in a Kibbutz. We hope to visit him if there is still time.
7/13 Scott joined us late last night after Eitan Peled’s Bar Mitzvah. He said it was fantastic – if not for the family trip, I would have been very happy to have been there myself. We went to Tzfat after a wasted morning in Tiveria (ask me another time) and there is no way we could have spent enough time there. I would have loved half a day, but as it was we spent too long and had to readjust our plans. I saw the building for Livnot U’Lehibanot (To Build and To Be Built), a program I did 12 years ago. At that time it was a three month program and I was based in Jerusalem, but we spent close to 2 weeks in Tzfat. I then ran into the program’s director, Aharon Botzer, on the streets of Tzfat. I promised I would email him and tell him what I’ve been doing.
I bought my favorite souvenir – a necklace with Psalm 121 on it. The words of the Psalm include some wonderful songs (Esa Enai, Hinei Lo Yanum), and wearing the neacklace feels like wearing an amulet. I love it.
Beit She’An was among the most incredible things I have ever seen. When the kids are older we will have to go back and really explore.
7/14 We had our Seudah Shelishit at the Kotel with my parents and the Easts, Rabbi Menashe and Donna (good friends who are part of the program – we have loved spending time with them here and hope the trend continues when we are all back in San Diego). My sister left early in the morning after a wonderful visit. I hope she will return to Israel someday.
I’ve enjoyed walking and visiting with friends on Shabbat. Obviously not an easy thing for us to adopt in San Diego, but we are looking at ways to bring some of our Shabbat experiences back with us. It was great to see the kids at the Kotel. My mother was holding Maital and saying “wall” and Maital started to say “wall.” It was very cool. I can’t wait to go back to the Old City when we can take pictures of the kids there.
I’ve bought a ton of head scarves and have started covering my hair everyday. I’m enjoying it here – it feels natural and comfortable. People here are really identifiable by the style of dress and type of head covering they wear. I don’t know enough to make those distinctions beyond the superficial, but it is fascinating to me. I must appear as some crazy, uninformed American. In fact, I wear the scarves differently if I’m wearing pants than if I’m wearing skirts. Will I do this at home? Some version of it? I don’t know. What about other articles of clothing? As I said, I’ve been exploring different aspects of my observance while here.
7/15 We went to Tel Aviv for the dedication of the school building in honor of Ruben Rosental’s father. It was wonderful to see Fanny and Ruben and enjoy the honor to Ruben’s father. We returned home and I was exhausted, perhaps a reaction to my parents leaving very soon. I was not happy that Scott would be in Hebron, and, if you’ve read that date, you will see that his experience was not a pleasant one. Again, the relationship with Israel is complicated, like family. You take great pride in their accomplishments and are often tempted to turn a blind eye when you see things that are wrong. Trying to reconcile the different pieces is quite difficult. Sometimes I just bounce from one extreme to the other.
7/16 We went shopping in the Old City with my parents. I am not a person who enjoys bargaining. I particularly disliked the aggressive salesmen. Heaven forbid you are actually only window shopping! One actually got mad at me and didn’t believe me when I said I would return. Another I think tried to grope me. I was distinctly uncomfortable in the shuk, not feeling it was a place I belonged. But it was great to be with my kids and my parents. My parents left before 1AM.
7/17 Uh oh, Scott is sick. He has ended up with strep! But he still managed to go to school. I spent the day hanging out with Donna and her daughter Ayala. Such a sweetie! We went to a beading store on Emek Refaim and the kids made necklaces. They had great beads – hamsas and pomegranates – that you never see at beading stores in the states! I have a great new charm bracelet.
7/18 This was my first long day alone. Scott left at 7:15 AM and didn’t return until around 9:30 PM. I took the kids to the zoo after trying to deal with a washing machine situation. It was awesome. Of course, nothing compares to the San Diego Zoo, but it was very cool. They had a really neat meerkat exhibit that the kids loved. They walked into a tunnel, and at three separate points, stood on a stool and put their heads up inside a bubble. They were inside the meerkat exhibit and could look around like the meerkats do. There was also one with prairie dogs. The bears amazed me. There were four together, vocalizing, swimming and snapping at one another. Fun to watch. Shayna also loved the sprays of water to cool visitors off at each exhibit. We walked to Noah’s Ark, where they had some interactive computers (too crowded) and a movie. I thought it would be a simple cartoon about Noah’s Ark, but it was more about caring for our animals today, and how the zoo does that. Of course, it started off and had GRAPHIC REAL IMAGES of a seal being clubbed as an example of the terrible things done to animals in the name of sport. I was horrified, but it was quick and went right over the heads of my kids. I think the fact that the cartoon was in Hebrew helped. What a bizarre and horrid thing to show to children! Overall, the day was great.
7/19 This afternoon I went with the kids to a pool off Emek Refaim called B’richah Yerushalayim. They had a very large wading pool. I kept a hand on Maital the whole time but it is hard to watch three at once. Fortunately, I was with another mother/spouse of Hartman. It was nice to get a little wet. Today was the first day I felt really sad about our leaving soon. I feel like I’m just getting my bearings. Of course, it could also be that I know I have two full days with Scott coming up, which always makes me feel better.
We were supposed to go out this evening but our sitter flaked. Oh well.
7/20 We went to Mahane Yehuda with the kids this morning. I think it was too overwhelming, particularly for Nadiv. It was quite a balagan, but so alive. I also got some great new hats today.
7/21 Shabbat morning, we walked to the monastery across the street, then back home. It was hot very early this morning. We had company for lunch and it was really relaxing. I thought about the fact that in the states we have Saturday which we must make an effort to re-identify and call Shabbat. Two separate names, two separate meanings. In Israel, it is simply Shabbat, whether you are religious or secular.
7/22 We had our follow-up doctor’s appointment for Maital today. She is totally fine. Did I mention that she can now climb a dining room chair? The visit was a waste of time and money. Oh well. It would actually have been a long day for Scott, and he stayed with us for the rest of the day, so I can’t totally complain. We visited Scott’s old Hebrew U. roommate who he hasn’t seen for 15 years. This evening Scott and I enjoyed my birthday dinner, since tomorrow night begins Tisha B’Av. We ate at an Iraqi place in Mahane Yehuda. Delicious! Later we had frozen yogurt with mix-ins on Ben Yehuda Street. My favorites? Halva, Mekupelet (special Israeli chocolate) and Tutim (strawberries).
7/23 Well, I’m finally in my mid-30s! We had lunch with Scott at Hartman, nice though not peaceful. I took the kids to the Bloomfield Science Center – wonderful hands-on activities. We all enjoyed it. I ran into another spouse of the program who told me about some other great things to do with my kids. They may have to wait until next summer at this point.
7/24 Today I woke up not feeling well. Uh oh. I think tomorrow morning’s schedule will include a doctor’s visit. When Scott got home from school at 1 PM today, we went to the mall with the kids. An odd way to observe Tisha B’Av, I’ll admit, but it was mostly ok. Scott, Shayna and Nadiv ended up seeing “Shrek The Third” while Maital and I wandered the stores. We are currently enjoying our takeout Chinese food while all three kids are sleeping. Scott’s last day of school is tomorrow, then it is family time (with a couple babysitting evenings scheduled) until we head home next week.
Obviously, there are many stories and things that I couldn’t include in this writing. I would be happy to talk to you when we are finally home and tell you more about everything! Laila Tov my friends. Looking forward to seeing many of you next week.
Wish us safe travels!