Category Archives: personal

Returning Home

Six months ago, we made the decision to return to Israel. We knew we weren’t eligible to make Aliyah – having lived in Israel for 11 years previously – but what did it mean to be a “returning Israeli”? Was it just a technicality or different status in our teudat zehut/identity card?

Almost as soon as we finalized our plans to come back to Israel, we found out about a “toshav chozer” conference that was taking place in NYC. Both Josh & I reflected many times during the conference, where MKs spoke from the heart about the beauty of returning “home,” how mind-blowing it is that we have a country that not only offers practical and financial assistance to returning Israelis, but genuinely welcomes us “home.” Is there any other country in the world that welcomes home its residents with open arms like Israel?

When my husband and I made Aliyah (separately) in 1998, there was no Nefesh BNefesh on the scene. No IDF soldiers greeting us at the airport. No ceremony. And this time around too, we were just a frazzled family of five with fifteen suitcases on a regular El Al flight. But even though we didn’t get to enjoy the magical NBN experience, there was no mistaking the fact that we had arrived “home.”

Moving countries is never fun, but when you are returning “home,” you realize very quickly that you are NEVER alone. Not in our new community, Rehovot, where we were received with such a beautiful welcome; not in Misrad Haklita, where they patiently and gently talked us through the rights we are entitled to; not in our girls’ elementary school, which welcomed our girls six weeks before the end of the school year without batting an eyelid; and not in our new apartment building, where our new neighbors offered us their fridge to store our food while we were without appliances, and invited us for Shabbat meals.

Three months later, and the honeymoon ain’t over. When we left the US, we left behind not just amazing friends, but parents, siblings, our children’s grandparents, nieces and nephews. Blood relatives. No easy thing. But returning to Israel, returning HOME, means that no matter how tough things get, no matter how harsh and ugly the world can seem, in Israel you are among brothers. Among family. One people, one heart.

These words play out constantly in our lives.

The limitations of the Israeli public school system only reinforce what a tremendous country Israel is, and how spectacular my girls’ school is. It takes very little effort at all to find fault with the overcrowded classrooms, the low ratio of teachers-students, etcetera, etcetera, but amidst the chaos and disorganization, there are spectacular human beings who genuinely care about our children’s integration back into Israel, about their comfort, about their happiness. One people, one heart.

This week I once again discovered that to be a “returning Israeli” is not just a technicality, but that you are truly being welcomed with open arms. As “returning Israelis” who have been out of the country less than 4 years, my girls are not technically entitled to receive any help from the school with Hebrew.

Yet Tachkemoni, my daughters’ school, is choosing to overlook that technicality, and at the end of each school day, my girls receive an extra hour of assistance with homework/Hebrew. The girls’ classes are bursting at the seams – Tzofia is one of 39 students with only one teacher – yet the teachers bend over backwards to make themselves accessible at all times for both us and the girls, and constantly are offering support and words of chizuk/encouragement. One people, one heart.

This summer was a disaster for Israeli children – yet my daughters’ teachers and ganenet took the time to pick up the phone to check in and see how they were doing, and to offer support and encouraging words.

None of this do I take for granted. Last night I was at my youngest daughter’s back-to-gan meeting. As we went around the room and introduced ourselves, I told everyone that we just returned to Israel three months ago. The parents all clapped and said “bruchim habaim – welcome.” Can you imagine such a scene in France, England, anywhere in the world? Where fellow parents – essentially strangers – in your child’s class would be so excited and inspired by the idea of someone returning home to… Manchester?

We left Israel three years ago, unaware what it would mean if we ever one day decided to come back, but Israel was waiting for us patiently all that time to welcome us back home.

 

Express Yourself: Reveal Rather Than Mask

Since the age of two, my four-year-old daughter has been obsessed with Spiderman. On rainy days, she proudly sports her Spiderman umbrella, her last two birthday cakes have both featured Spiderman, and given an opportunity to dress up (either at home, a friend’s house, or at a gymboree), she will opt for the Spiderman/superhero costume rather than more girlish choices. Her only exposure to Spiderman has been indirect through friends at daycare and kindergarten. We don’t have satellite TV or cable, and she has no siblings who have ever shown any interest in Spiderman.

Tzofia first discovered Spiderman two years ago, during a trip to the States. We spent one rainy morning at a local gymboree, where there was a dress-up area with an array of costumes. Tzofia was instantly drawn to the Spiderman costume, and asked to put it on. Up until that point, she had been exclusive to Tigger and Dora. Once dressed up as Spiderman, she jumped up and down, started growling, and began chasing her older sister around the room. When we asked her why she was growling, she said that she wanted to be “scary like Spiderman.”  We found it both interesting and amusing that her perception of Spiderman was that of a scary and intimidating figure, and since that day, has maintained that character when dressed up as him. Perhaps her image of Spiderman as being scary and “bad” gives her an outlet for any pent-up anger or frustration she is feeling.

A couple of months ago, when we were blessed with a couple of rare but welcome rainy days here in Israel, Tzofia left the house excitedly, more because of the opportunity the rain afforded her to use her Spiderman umbrella. When we arrived at gan, a few girls standing by the door chanted (in Hebrew): “Spiderman is for boys!” I have to say that one of my proudest moments occurred right then when Tzofia marched proudly right past the girls, and hung up her umbrella next to her friends’. I prayed to myself that for the rest of her life she should be as confident in her individuality as she was right at that moment.

With the onset of Purim, our family conversations have inevitably centered around Purim costumes, and Tzofia asked us if Spiderman is only for boys. At some point our free-spirited and strong-willed four-year-old became aware of her surroundings, and somehow internalized the message that Spiderman isn’t every girl’s cup of tea. Our heavily weighed answer was: “Spiderman is for whoever likes him.” I thought hard about Tzofia’s question afterwards. My instinct was to encourage her to stay loyal to Spiderman, regardless of what the girls around her say or do, but upon further thought, I realized that perhaps her question indicated emotional maturity and awareness of her environment. However much we want to encourage her individuality, it is inevitable that at some point she will have to make the choice whether her form of self-expression comes with too heavy a price. And that is part of growing up. Also, is it fair to encourage her to be Spiderman when we all know that kids can be cruel, and she may be the butt of her friends’ jokes?  Fast-forward two weeks later, and Tzofia’s choices ranged from Spiderman to a bear (“because bears scare people more”) to Ironman – to finally Superman. She ultimately decided to stay with the superhero.

My first reaction to these changes of heart was frustration, till it dawned on me that Purim for children represents one day of the year when they can reinvent themselves before their family, their teachers, their friends; that Purim is not just about disguising themselves and putting masks on, but rather taking them off, giving those around them the ability to see them how they want to be seen. A vehicle for self-expression. On this day, when children can parade the streets in their mask, tutu, or superhero costume, they are subconsciously teaching themselves that they can be whoever they want to be. There are no limitations other than those they set for themselves.

Imma – music to my ears

I am ashamed to say that often, when I hear the call, “Imma,” from my two girls, I tense up. It is as if, on some level, I resent their encroachment upon my time, my peace, my quiet, my thoughts.  When I stop, in the quiet of the day when they are at gan, or at night when they are fast asleep, to think about this reaction of mine, I feel nothing but remorse and a desire to take them out of gan and lavish attention upon them, or go into their room at night and kiss their foreheads as they sleep. But being human, the next morning, when one is demanding more cornflakes while the other is having a tantrum and refuses to go to gan, my good intentions fly out of the window, and I feel once more resentment at having to deal with the stress.

I acknowledge that the above concession does not make me an evil person, just a human being. But some events have unfortunately occurred over the last few weeks that have altered my perspective. Unfortunately, a close family member of ours has been diagnosed with the big “C.” The prognosis is good, and please G-d, we are all praying for her speedy recovery, and the medical statistics give us a lot of reason to hope.

Since her diagnosis, she has created an online journal, where she can keep friends and family apprised of her condition. Her entry yesterday struck me to the core. She wrote that she believes that G-d knows what He is doing, and that everything that is happening to her is happening for a reason. What she fears, however, is that in the same way she often rejects her kids’ requests, regardless of how much they wish for what they can’t have, G-d is going to reject her entreaties. And she is frightened of leaving her husband and three kids alone, without her.

Without being too morbid, it struck me deeply what a gift I have, every single day, to have my girls call my name, to be their support, their rock, their shoulder to cry and kvetch on.

What a beautiful, amazing gift that I am strong enough and healthy enough to be their support mechanism. Not everyone gets to have that choice. Not everyone has the ability, even if the will is there, of being able to physically GIVE to their children. And it makes me realize that the sweetest music to my ears are those four letters which I hear a million times a day: Imma.

Please pray for Sarah Shayndel bat Frumah.

What ever made me think I could drive in this country – Part II

The inside of my head feels like a construction site today. And just yesterday I was thinking to myself (I was smart enough not to voice this thought out loud in case I gave myself an ayin hara)  how nice it is that I have not been sick for a while. Seemingly, it isn’t enough to ward off superstition by refraining from verbalizing one’s thoughts – the thoughts themselves jinx you. Voila, today I am sick, and, of course, being British, am blaming it on the weather.

Well, all is not lost. I may not have the necessary concentration to work, but the show will go on, and here is Part II of my misfortune on the Israeli roads, the drama of which continues until this day. 

 So where were we? Aah, yes. Summer of 2005. Just two weeks before the birth of my second daughter, I had come through the worst, and was officially an Israeli driver. I wasn’t sure if this was something to be proud of – judging by the insane driving and amount of fatalities on the road in this country – but I was euphoric to finally have the independence I so craved, and never in my life thought I would be so elated at the prospect of being able to drive myself to the supermarket to buy a bag of milk.  I was not the only happy camper. After three years of Josh being the one who had to run all the errands single-handed, he was happy to relieve himself of the responsibility. Of course, I didn’t really have much opportunity to drive in the two weeks leading up to the birth, given my size and my extremely pregnant condition, and I could not drive for six weeks after the birth because of the c-section delivery, but the knowledge, the sweet knowledge, of knowing that if I wanted to drive, I could, made me a very happy woman.

Fast-forward a couple of months to December of 2005 – it was a Friday morning in Modiin, and wanting to beat the normal Friday craziness in the supermarkets, I headed out early in the morning to the supermarket to do some last-minute errands. On my way back, at 8.30, I approached an intersection, and came to a stop at the stop sign. So far, so good. Advancing past the stop sign, I looked to my left, and saw a car coming from a distance, but thought I had enough time to make it, and cross the intersection. Well, I didn’t. The car was speeding, and we collided. Thank G-d, no one was hurt. My car took the extreme brunt of the damage, while the guy’s car was only slightly dented on the left side. I was reeling from shock. Before I knew it, the police had arrived, and our cars were moved away to the side of the road. The first thought that entered my mind was: I am screwed, I am screwed. For the first year of having your license, you are supposed to have a “New Driver” sign on the rear window, but mine was lying unused in the trunk. All it would take was for a policeman to look at my driver’s license, and see that I had only passed the test a couple of months before, and I would really be in trouble. As it turned out, that was the least of my worries. The policeman did indeed take a look at my license, and remarked that I didn’t have the sign at the back of my car, but instead of bailing me out for it, he winked at me and said, “al tidag, beseder, beseder” (Don’t worry, it’s fine). In this case, playing the role of the helpless female worked wonders.

A couple of minutes later, Josh arrived at the scene after my frantic phone call, and we talked to the Russian guy whose car I collided into. As far as I could see, he could only gain from the accident. His car looked as if it was at least fifteen years old, and the insurance money he would receive from the accident could help him buy a new car. It looked as if it is was on its way out anyway. We didn’t fare as well. We had to replace the entire right side of our car for a hefty bill, even with the insurance. A very annoying situation, but we were philosophical about it. No one was hurt, we were just a couple of thousand shekel poorer, and life goes on. His speeding combined with my poor judgement caused the accident.

A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from the guy’s insurance company. He had claimed that his entire car was a write-off, and they wanted to verify his story. His car was only slightly dented, but obviously shekel signs were flashing in front of his eyes, and he wanted to profit from the situation, so he made out that his car had been totally wrecked. I told the insurance agent in no uncertain terms that HIS car was fine – although I couldn’t say the same about my car.

So my insurance company battled it out against his insurance company, and we were issued with a notice that we had to go to court over it, and that we had to be present… I am sure you can guess from my “luck” this far the outcome of the case – the representative that was sent to court on behalf of my insurance company was an arrogant, oil-slicked teenager who looked as if he would be more comfortable as a DJ in a night club in Tel Aviv than in a court of law, and did not endear himself to the female judge who had obviously had had her fair share of swaggering insurance agents that day. So yet another defeat for us, and a letter arrived in our mail box just a couple of weeks later notifying us that they had “dropped” us, and that they would no longer give us insurance, since we had been in two accidents in two years. (The first “accident” happened a year before on our street in Jerusalem, when our car was parked outside our apartment, and a school wall came tumbling down at  7.30 in the morning, luckily injuring no children, but crushing our car.)  The injustice! How dare they just “drop” us like that? What is the point of having insurance if the minute you get into an accident, you are considered too much of a liability, and you find yourself insurance-less? Well, what choice did we have? We found another insurance agent who finally agreed to take us on, and although we weren’t as fully covered, at least we had insurance.

 If only this was the end of my sorry tale. In June of this year, a message on my cellphone informed “Hakhel” that his court case had been postponed till July 15. Having put the accident behind me, and thinking that the message was obviously not for me, since who in G-d’s name was “Hakhel”, I concluded that they had the wrong number, and felt sorry for the dude who was never informed of the change in date of his court case. Well, another phone call a week later confirmed that “Hakhel” was their way of pronouncing “Sorelle,” and that the message was indeed intended for my ears.

I tried to keep my voice even and calm when I spoke to the clerk, and thanked her for notifying me of the change in date in court case, but that I had no idea that there was even going to be a court case, and if she could please tell me what in G-d’s name she was talking about, I would be ever so grateful. The next five minutes of our conversation revealed that the State of Israel were prosecuting me for poor judgement in an accident that had occurred two years ago. Of course, I had never received the original letter from the court, so this follow-up phone call telling me that the case had been postponed was not exactly helpful. 

You gotta love Israel – the ENTIRE government at the time were being indicted for some crime or another, including the beloved prime minister, Olmert, and the head of the police, and I WAS BEING PROSECUTED FOR POOR JUDGEMENT?   

After recovering from the initial shock, my next phone call was to find a lawyer who could find out from the police what the story was – and what it was that I was being prosecuted for. Apparently, the other driver had not only claimed that his car was a write-off, but that he had to go to hospital because of injuries sustained as a result of the accident. Frustration turned into rage – it’s one thing for this guy to try to get rich out of the accident, but to claim that he was hurt was so outrageous and deceitful, he may as well have been claiming that night was day. My lawyer suggested that we work out some sort of plea bargain with the court, whereby I lose my license for a couple of months (that’s a compromise???), and that would be it.

The lawyer told me that the worst-case scenario would be for them to take away my license for three months, so I wasn’t quite sure why agreeing to them taking away my license for three months was a plea bargain – but he claimed that that was the best he could do given the fact that I was a new driver, and the cards were stacked against me. He did, however, assure me that there would be no fine. Okay, three months without a license – I had lived for this long without a license, life goes on. 

Well, to cut an extremely long story short, I arrive in court to find that not only was I going to be without my license for three months, but that I was going to be slapped with a NIS 1000 shekel fine. Apparently, my lawyer “forgot” – when he met with the prosecutor over coffee and croissants – to bring up the issue of the fine, and that was why, in essence, there was no plea bargain. I had paid $600 to an absolutely useless lawyer, and the prosecutor must have been laughing his head off at the results of the “plea bargain.” The lawyer did reassure me, though, that I could pay the fine in tashlumim – monthly payments. How very reassuring. NOTE TO SELF: Hire an Israeli lawyer, not a self-effacing British one. Well, I didn’t roll over meekly on this one – my husband and I insisted that the lawyer pay half the fine, and eventually he agreed, admitting that he had “forgot” to bring up the subject of the fine. There were TWO things the lawyer needed to discuss – the issue of my license being revoked for three months, and the fine – and out of those two things, he suffered amnesia, and forgot to deal with the money aspect.

I was told by the judge that I had to hand in my license to the court office, and pay the fine. Well, as I handed over my license – and my freedom – to the faceless woman behind the desk, my heart started to pound as she told me that she could not take my license, since it had expired just two days before. The three-month clock could not start ticking until I renewed my license, and then return to the court to hand it in. Exercising extreme self-restraint by stopping myself from having a nervous breakdown right then and there, I asked her calmly and slowly where I could renew my license in the area, and she told me where, but with one caveat – the Ministry of Transport were on strike, and I could not renew my license until they resumed work. So I had to wait an extra FIVE days until they deigned to get up from their strike and join the rest of the workforce before I could renew my license, and begin the three-month period of my driverless status.

I suppose I should have realized two weeks ago, on October 31st, when I finally got my license back, that that wouldn’t be the end of it. Just this morning, I was delivered a letter informing me that I have to take a twelve-hour course on basic driving, followed by an exam at the end.

So do you think someone’s trying to tell me something?

   

A catalogue of car woes – is someone trying to tell me something?

Sometimes I wonder if it just isn’t meant to be. Me. Driving. Behind the wheel.

As of today, I am now back behind the wheel. Now that my three-month period of being an intolerable backseat driver has drawn to a close (my poor long-suffering husband!), I can “talk” about the experience with some degree of perspective. In July of this year, my license was taken away for three months, and I was fined 1000 NIS, for an accident that happened two years’ ago, on a cold December morning in Modiin. In order for you to understand quite how unlucky this was, you’re going to need some background info. It’s a rocky ride, but there are some laughs along the way, so hold on tight.

It took me over two years to get my driver’s license in Israel. I could have bought myself a Ferrari with the amount of money I spent on driving lessons. Now before you draw hasty conclusions about my driving and coordination skills based on the length of time it took me to get my license, and the fact that I just revealed that I was in an accident, I can say emphatically that this one was beyond my control. In order to take the practical test, you need to take the theory test. After a couple of months of crawling around the Modiin streets in the evening with my Iraqi driving teacher, whose name – Sassi Sasson – continues to crack me up until this day, we decided that I was ready to take the theory test and then the practical test. At 100 NIS per lesson, Sassi had done well out of me, and he gave me his blessing to prepare for the test.

Not trusting my limited knowledge of mechanical terminology in Hebrew, I opted to take the test in English. Pretty logical decision, one might think, but that was my first mistake. Now, maybe because I am an editor, I have a heightened awareness of inconsistencies and the like, but it was quite clear from page one of the theory book in English (if you can call it that) that finding one coherent sentence that didn’t totally contradict the previous one was going to be a challenge of enormous proportions. Sentences like, “The transmission works in operation next to the gear box and the crank shaft all together up and down,” swam in front of my eyes, and I told myself that if I could pass the theory test in English, I could do anything. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I turned to Sassi for help, and told him that although I am no mechanical whizz, the book just made no sense. Even if Sassi explained to me the ins and outs of mechanics (why you need to know the complex mechanics of the car just to pass a driving test, I will never know), it wouldn’t help. The test in English would surely be based on the nonsensical drivel in the book – so the question was: Should I learn the correct information in the hope that the English test would be more coherent, or should I memorize the entire book, however dumb and illogical, in the presumption that they would test me based on the false information in it? 

Sassi could barely contain his excitement at hearing my dilemma. In Hebrew, he told me that I was absolutely right (thanks, Sassi, for telling me that NOW after I have already bought the book, and memorized each ridiculous sentence of its eighty pages) – the book was horrendous – filled with typos and inconsistencies – a landmine for any potential driver, and that he had a solution that would work to my advantage in more ways than one. As he delivered his master plan, I listened skeptically. Sassi suggested that I write a letter to the Ministry of Transport alerting them to the awful state of the English theory book. I should include in my letter some “best of the worst” sentences as examples of the mistakes. I should then take the opportunity to offer them my professional services as editor (gotta love the opportunistic edge of Israelis) to help them remedy the situation. How would this scheme benefit Sassi? Not quite sure. But he was mighty keen on the idea. He did say that he had other English-speaking students, and that it was in everybody’s interest that something be done about the English theory book. Well, as ideas go, it wasn’t the worst scheme in the world–but knowing the beauraucratical process in Israel as I do, I wasn’t hopeful that the Ministry of Transport would be knocking down MY door anytime soon, however convincing my letter, so I left it at that, and promised Sassi I would give it some thought. This won’t sound noble, but at the age of 26, as a mother and wife with a full-time job, I just wanted to DRIVE. Not launch a campaign against the Ministry of Transport, not write petitions, and rally for the cause. I just wanted to pass the damned theory test, so that I wouldn’t have to take another cab again to pick up my daughters from gan.

 I told myself that I had written dissertations, and am now an editor – a silly theory test would not get the better of me. So I psyched myself for the test, and joined some giddy sixteen-year-olds in Modiin to take the test. Unlike me, they were taking it in Hebrew, and their books actually contained sentences that might actually help a person in a tricky situation with a flat tire. I was the only one who took the test in English, and the multiple questions were designed to trick. If I wrote the correct answer, would they fail me anyway, because that was not what was written in the English theory book? Felt like a lose-lose situation to me. And it was. I failed. Not just once. But twice. “Hi, my name is Sorelle, and I can’t pass a theory test to save my life.” According to the results of my theory test, I got 49 questions wrong out of 50. 49 questions wrong out of 50 – I ask you!!!  Well, as you can imagine, my self-confidence was at an all-time low at that point. That was until I read the local Modiin newspaper a couple of months later – and said that they were no longer giving out tests in English in Modiin, because there were reports of corruption, and that the tests were marked manually – and not on the computer…. each time you take the test, you have to pay another 113 NIS, so it was in many people’s interest to keep on failing those unsuspecting Anglo students… At that point, I burned the theory book in English (no joke), and prepared myself to become incredibly familiar with mechanical lingo in Hebrew.

Well, three’s a charm, and I passed my third theory test in Jerusalem. (Lest you think things were finally going smoothly, unbeknownst to me, while I was taking my theory test, my husband who had dropped me off at the test center had gotten into a minor accident, and collided into another car…) Yay! Hebrew prevailed! Sassi was profiting very nicely from my predicament, since he said that it was important for me to keep taking lessons while I was studying for my multiple theory tests, so that I wouldn’t lose momentum, so we kept cruising round the Modiin streets, me, Sassi, and Ayal Golan, and all other sorts of delightful Mizrachi singers on the radio, as he regaled me with tales of Iraq, and his escape from there at the age of 14 when he left his family and moved to Israel alone. The editor in me was thinking at the time of offering to edit his autobiography – he told some pretty hair-raising stories – either he had a fascinating life, or he would make a great fiction writer.

The time came for me to take the practical test, and by that point, I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my second daughter. Getting behind the steering wheel was a challenge enough, never mind navigating one-way streets in Modiin at the mercy of insane Israeli drivers, and of course, as can be predicted, despite Sassi’s assurances that I would pass without a problem (after over 100 lessons, I would hope so!), the tester set me a trap, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He told me to do an emergency stop, so I did – but he failed me for parking on the wrong side of the road. Another 300 shekel down the drain, and some more “momentum” lessons with Sassi in between my next test. Well, I took my second test just two weeks before I gave birth to Tzofia, and as I was waiting to see which tester I would be subjected to this time, I was horrified to see that it was the same tester who had just failed me. I turned to Sassi in desperation and told him that after last time, there was NO way that I was going to pass! The tester hated me as it was! Sassi reassured me in the typical Israel fashion that does everything BUT reassure you – “Al tidag, hakol yihiyeh beseder, taamini li, motek” – “Don’t worry, love, everything’s going to be just fine.” Of course, what this translated as, “I have a deal with the tester, and you WILL pass this time.” I looked at Sassi menacingly, and told him that I had better pass, because at 38 weeks pregnant, I was fed up already, and that if I failed again, I would drive illegally, and wouldn’t take any more lessons with Sassi. I don’t know what it was that clinched it, but I did indeed pass the next time. The tester’s demeanor and attitude was totally different this time – he didn’t snap at me, and he was polite. I don’t know whether it was because he feared that upsetting me would cause my waters to break in his nicely scented shiny car, but this was a joy ride. He made me drive around the block a couple of times – NO reverse parking, NO highway, NO traps – and lo and behold, I passed! YAY!  I had made it to the finishing line, but the drama still wasn’t quite over…

<APOLOGIES FOR THE CLIFFHANGER> Stay tuned for part II of “Why did I ever think I could drive in this country?” 

Learning to recognize the signs…

Since July, I have basically stopped blogging. I didn’t feel that I had anything to say, and I figured that a very telling sign that it was time to give it up was the fact that I had to think hard about what to write about, and if you have to dig deep and think about the subject of your blog posts, then the fun kind of goes right out of the window, and the whole venture becomes kinda pointless. My “decision,” if you can call it that (“deciding” not to blog didn’t require very much thought), was made easier by the fact that I knew I wasn’t going to be disappointing hundreds of daily readers who make reading my blog part of their daily schedule, so I slipped away quietly, and my absence by and large went relatively unnoticed – unless there are some lurkers on the site who have laid low.

So why is she back now, I hear you ask. Well, the answer is FACEBOOK. I have become addicted to something I swore from the outset that I would never let myself get suckered into. Facebook, as a social networking tool, is fine and dandy, and reconnecting with old pals is definitely a nice thing, although the point could be argued that there is a reason why people lose touch with each other, and if someone is important to you, you pick up the phone. Well, that’s an argument for another day. In fact, I talked about this very subject a while back… 

Anyway, Facebook has a feature that enables you to update your status, so your friends can view your status. “Sorelle is weighing up the benefits of eating dairy over meat for lunch today.” “Sorelle is reminiscing about days gone by…” The feature presents a grammatical challenge since the beginning of the sentence always begins with “is…” Lately, I have found my statuses getting longer and longer. Just today, for example, I wrote: “Sorelle is wishing she could boycott all kids’ clothes made in Israel, that in truth should be marketed as disposable clothing. Grrr.” The big telltale sign that it was time for me to resume blogging was when the status update feature restricted the amount of words that I used for the updates, and then it became clear that what I really wanted to do was…. WRITE.

So here I am. Have a good one, wherever you are. 

Are you a noisy eater?

It doesn’t matter where – sitting on the couch in front of the TV, in an elevator, at the dinner table, or standing in line at the post office – if a person within my field of vision is eating noisily, I find myself going insane. Literally. We’re not talking a mild irritation here – an internal silent wish that the person would stop; I have to physically restrain myself from running out of the room, or, in the case of an elevator or bus, where a quick exit is less realistic, from screaming out loud in frustration. I can’t think of a habit that annoys me more in a person.

I have been afflicted with this intolerance for as long as I can remember. I am the youngest of four, and I recall as a bratty and spoilt five-year-old, I would threaten to leave the room (and actually acted on it) if my brother didn’t stop biting down on the spoon as if his life depended on it every time he ate soup. If I wasn’t only five years old at the time, and had greater powers of articulation and persuasion, as well as access to the then-non-existent Internet, I would have told him to take a leaf out of the Chinese book, and breathe in while sipping from his soup. According to the Chinese, this method prevents slurping.

Definitely the worst offences are eating cereal, munching on chips, slurping on soup, and chewing gum. I really thought that my violent reaction against noisy eating would have been something I would have grown out of by now, but no. If anything, I am even MORE intolerant now than I was when I was a child. I have more words at my disposal to lash out against the offender.

I am vaguely aware that this intolerance is not something to be proud of, and it is even quite trivial in the whole scheme of things, yet I wonder what it is that makes people eat as unabashedly loudly as they do. There are times when I even have to tell certain people in my life that I can’t watch TV with them if they plan on eating, and that kinda wreaks havoc on your recreational activities.

I’m interesting in hearing from either those who share a similar distaste for noisy eating (if so, do you know of a cure?) or better yet those who are noisy eaters themselves, who can help me understand what lies at the root of noisy eating. Is it your background? Your nationality? (I’m British, after all.) Your religion? (Just kidding.) Is it an emotional attitude towards eating that manifests itself once the food is in your mouth? (I know, I’m a freak.)

Before I sign off, I have to say that an interesting element of all this is that the only two people in the world who don’t disturb me when they are slurping or munching are my two little girls. But that’s probably because I am just so grateful that they are eating at all – they eat like birds – that I block out the noise. Hmm. 

Beauty in the ordinary

Any parent will be able to testify that parenting and child-rearing is a difficult and often thankless job. From the moment you find out you are pregnant, you have to come to terms with a new reality; your time is not your own, and you will need to subordinate your own needs to those of your children. That’s not to say that the moment you become a parent, you get it right every time. Far from it. We snap, we lose our temper and patience, and we constantly are engaged in a struggle against shouting out: “Can’t you just amuse yourselves for just five minutes?!? Is that really asking for too much?”

I became an aunty when I was eleven years old, and doted on my nieces and nephews so much that I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a mother. During periods of my teenage life, I would often have the kind of dreams that are so beautiful that you wish you never woke up from – dreams about giving birth and having a baby. Granted the dreams were romanticized, and the labor didn’t involve excruciating agony, but rather were Hollywood-inspired, where my face was glowing with joy and ecstasy, and I was enveloped in this deep sense of serenity. It was picture perfect, and I couldn’t wait to turn the dream into reality.

At the age of twenty-five, I became a mother, and while the pregnancy left much to be desired, and there were times during Eliana’s first year when I was itching to be back at work, and found myself bored at times, I never in my wildest dreams – not even those that occupied my teenage years – could have imagined the elation that accompanies parenthood. When you get married, you learn to look at yourself in the mirror. For the first time, you are not the only person who has to live with your behavior, and your actions are held up to the mirror, and you see yourself as someone else sees you. Parenting is an extension of that. You learn that you have endless capacities for love, and you learn that even though you are a shameless shopaholic, nothing brings you more pleasure than buying something for your children, and seeing the look of joy on their face. And you learn that nothing makes you happier than knowing that they are well, happy, and feel safe.

I am sure I am not alone in feeling that as a parent, you grapple with the urge to wrap your children up in cotton wool, and do your upmost to protect them from anything unpleasant in the world, but of course, not only would it be impossible, you would be stunting their development. They have to fall in order to learn how to stand up on their own two feet. 

When Eliana was about eight months old, she was sick with a high fever, and she was miserable for days. She was lethargic, she wouldn’t eat, barely drank, and her sleeping was erratic. It was as if a dark and heavy cloud had descended upon our house, and I was racked with fears, most of them irrational. It was Friday night, and Josh and I had just finished eating Friday night dinner, and after four days of Eliana being lethargic and totally disinterested in toys, we saw her crawl over to a toy car, and start playing with it and giggling. Without saying a word, Josh and I looked at each other with such relief and happiness. Later, we discussed how at that moment we really understood what it was to be a parent, to feel such immense love for your child that your happiness is contingent upon their happiness and wellbeing. We were so relieved to see her come out of her misery that we were ready to do jigs and dance round the room.

Now, four years later, we are often sleep-deprived, and my conversations with Josh when the kids are around are inevitably always cut off. I can’t remember the last time I was able to finish a sentence when the kids are around; there are always interjections and requests and fights between the girls to mediate, but even with all of that, your child can say just one sentence, or give you a smile, and it will make all the exhaustion and frustration pale into insignificance.

Yesterday, I picked up Eliana from gan, and I told her that I missed her all day. My (not-so-little) girl looked me in the eye indulgently, and said, “But Mummy, I can’t stay home all day. I have to go to gan and see my ganenet and see my friends.” It was such a beautiful and poignant moment, and it made me think how important it is to hold onto these moments in your heart, because they are the ones that will carry you through the sleepless nights and the endless demands on your time and energy. 

After Josh and I got married, Josh was telling a good friend of his how our wedding day passed by in a blur, it all happened so quickly that it was hard to remember what happened. His friend replied that life is like that, it goes by so fast that you have to consciously remind yourself to live in the moment, and when you are experiencing something that is amazing, you need to stop yourself from moving on to the next experience, and be at one with it. It is all about finding beauty in the ordinary day-to-day routine of our lives. 

When it rains, it pours: a Shavuot we won’t forget in a hurry

Although we were somewhat behind schedule in our cooking this year, we weren’t worried. We had invited our guests, composed a menu, and were prepared to spend Monday and Tuesday cooking frantically. We were pretty excited for Shavuot – we had found some very interesting and surprisingly uncomplicated dairy recipes, and since Shavuot is only a one-day affair in Israel, everything was under control. At least it was until I came down with strep on Monday. (When I was in England, it was good old-fashioned tonsilitis, but since I got married to an American, and go to an American doctor, it’s “strep.”)

As soon as I came home from the doctor’s, we notified our guests that I had strep, but since I started taking antibiotics on Monday night, and they weren’t coming to us till Wednesday lunch, it wasn’t such a big deal. After 24 hours, you are no longer contagious. We were still on with our guests. Josh stepped in and did all the cooking, and by Tuesday lunchtime, everything seemed to be going smoothly. The food was cooked, my antibiotics had started to kick in, and I was starting to remember what it was like to feel human. Since the girls didn’t go to gan on Tuesday, we even managed to take them to the park for a couple of hours so they could get it out of their system.

Fast-forward to an hour before the start of Shavuot. I was blowdrying my hair, when I heard Josh yell at the top of his lungs that Eliana, our oldest, was hurt. She had been riding her bike, and had hurtled forward and hit her head against the garden wall. Josh’s t-shirt was covered in blood, and her forehead was bleeding. After making a couple of calls, we found out that the amazing TEREM in Modiin was open till midnight on Shabbatot and festivals, so with less than an hour to go till chag, Josh raced over there with Eliana. When they arrived, they received almost immediate treatment, and Josh told me how amazingly brave Eliana was throughout the whole process. She didn’t cry at all, not even when they were manipulating her head to put on the bandage. I was so incredibly proud of her. Even when her head was still bleeding back at home, and I had to put some clothes on her before she left for TEREM, she still had the strength to tell me that she wouldn’t wear pants, only a skirt! When she came back from TEREM, she ran into the room, and announced triumphantly, “Mummy, the doctor said I can’t get my bandage wet, so I can’t have a bath for three days!” That for her was the real icing on the cake. She got a special treat when she came home, and a star for her star chart, but the prize was avoiding baths for three days. Even today, every few hours, she tells me, “You know, the doctor says I can’t have a bath!”

If only that was the end of our dramas. This morning, over coffee, Josh asked me if I noticed that Eliana’s face seemed blotchy. Without my contact lenses, everything seems blotchy, so I couldn’t comment either way. Ten minutes later, once my lenses restored my vision, I noticed that Eliana was covered head to toe in spots. Yup. Chicken pox.* And we can’t give her a bath for three days because of her head.

So not only could she not go to shul with Josh – which is pretty much the highlight of her week – she couldn’t see her friend who was supposed to be coming over for lunch with her parents. Josh had to walk over to our friends, with trays of food, and tell them that this time, lunch really wasn’t going to happen. We felt so awful about it. At least, though, they had a good lunch:-)

So now we are just waiting for our toddler, Tzofia, to catch it. Thankfully, both girls have been vaccinated, so the symptoms shouldn’t be nearly as severe. Considering the circumstances, Eliana has been an absolute  angel. It is pretty awful that we can’t give her a bath when she needs it the most. She said to Josh tonight that she wanted him “to tell Hashem that her body hurts and that He should  make her boo boos go away.” AAW.  

So all in all, not the funnest of Shavuots, but hey, all four of us are in one piece, and we made it through the day with the help of treats and various other types of distractions. I just thank G-d that we are not in America, where we would be celebrating two days instead of one! 

* Curiouser and curiouser. I took Eliana to the doctor today to ascertain whether she really has chicken pox. With the absence of blisters, and the blotchiness of her skin, it seemed unlikely that it really was chicken pox. The doctor said that 50% of her patients had come in with a similar “rash” that morning, and that either it was some sort of virus (like the majority of unexplained illnesses), or it was a reaction to the antibiotics she has just finished for last week’s ear infection (I know, never a dull moment). She prescribed some antihistamine drops and some calamine lotion. Eliana was a happy camper because she came out of the doctor’s office with three stickers, which she took while the doctor was busy writing out the prescription. Hopefully she’ll be back in gan next week.

You can NEVER be too careful

My first instinct after reading this article is to go pick up my two girls this second, and take them out of their respective day cares.

A two-year-old boy died in Oklahoma after being bound and taped for refusing to be quiet during nap time.  I know that evil acts are committed every second of every day, and this isn’t the first or unfortunately last example of barbaric behavior, but as a parent, as a mother, stories like these make you want to wrap your children up in cotton wool till they are 18. No, make that 21.

Closer to home, I read almost every week in the free local Modiin newspaper sickening stories of child abuse occurring in private day care centers. An acquaintance of mine put her six-month-old son in a private day care center, only to wake up one night, after picking up her son from day care, to hear him screaming in agony. After taking him to the emergency room, the doctors told the parents that the baby had broken his elbow, and dislocated his arm. The day care lady claimed to know nothing about it.

I remember last year reading a story in the Modiin newspaper about a one-year-old boy who was found walking in an underground car park during the middle of the day. Apparently, he had climbed through the bushes of the garden, and walked down the street. When the police finally went to the day care center, the two women in charge hadn’t even noticed the boy was missing. Chilling stories. And all from private day care centers, where you are supposed to be paying extra money for peace of mind.

Since my husband and I both work full time, we have become very familiar over the last three and a half years with the process of searching out day care centers for our little ones. Over a year ago, my husband and I were looking for a day care center for my then-seven month old. We eliminated half of the day care centers on our list by simply standing outside their doors before knocking, so that we could listen to what was going on inside. In quite a few places, we heard the women yell at the children, and talk to them in a way that made ME frightened. We just walked away.

We finally found a place for Tzofia with what seemed to be a warm, Sephardi, grandmother-type, figure in her early fifties. She had five children of her own, who were all older and in school, and she was taking care of just two other babies. She had a large house with a huge garden. Sounded good. We told her everything she needed to know about Tzofia – her likes, dislikes, sleeping patterns, and arranged to leave her there the next day.  It was pretty straightforward – at that time, we had just started Tzofi on solids, so all she really ate was a bottle, fruit, and oatmeal.

The following day, I came to pick Tzofi up, and found that her face was covered in chocolate. Bewildered, I asked the woman why her face was covered in chocolate. Her response? “My son had a birthday party, and Tzofi really enjoyed the cake.” Well, that was the last time I ever stepped foot inside that house. Not surprisingly, on the way home, Tzofi threw up in her car seat.

Until your child reaches the age where s/he can communicate, and report to you what happens during the day, you need to take all the necessary measures to ensure that your child is in a safe and loving environment. A couple of weeks ago, I was standing on line in the supermarket, and struck up a conversation with the lady in front of me. She talked about her new job, and she said that she had just found a day care center for her six-month old baby, which was conveniently located next door to her apartment. I asked her if she had received good references, and she looked genuinely surprised at the question. She said that she hadn’t asked for references, but the location was so convenient that she couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Before registering your child for any day care center, private or otherwise, make sure you do the following:

1. Before you even go to check out a place, make sure that you have at least 4 references from parents of children who attend the day care. Obviously you have to use your judgment, and discriminate between those complaints that are silly and those that are critical. If a parent tells you that she doesn’t like the day care woman, because she is anal about parents coming to pick up their children on time, that is not an issue that is going to affect your child’s well being. If, however, a parent tells you that his/her kid comes home unhappy every day, and is not eating, sleeping well, it should make you think twice. The important thing is to have enough references to feel that you have received an accurate overall impression. 

Our two girls are both in gans that are simply amazing. While both of my daughters’ gans do things that annoy Josh and I, like insisting that we turn up to their events, etc., we can handle it because we know that they love our girls, and that they are extremely happy there. You have to be able to differentiate between annoyances that bother and affect YOU, and issues that bother your children. Your children have to take precedence every time.     

2. Go and check out the place at a time when they are not expecting you. It is easy for them to put on a smile, and be all sweetness and light when they know that you are coming. If you catch them off guard, you will get a truer picture. Stand outside the door for a few minutes, and listen to the way they talk to the children.

3. Go see the place at a time when the children are up, so that you can see their mood. While it is easy for adults to put on an act, children don’t lie. Do they seem content? Are they being supervised? Are they wandering around aimlessly, or are they engaged in activity?

4. Once you have decided on the day care center, make sure that for the first few weeks, you pop in every now and again, in the middle of the day, to see how your child is doing. It is better to come in unannounced. I know that many day care centers discourage that, but you can always make out that you forgot to bring them something.

5. Watch your children’s behavior. Even if they are unable to verbalize how they are feeling, do they seem happy to be going there in the morning? Do they run into the woman’s arms, or make motions to give them hugs or kisses? Our little girl was in a day care center for six months, and while I couldn’t pinpoint what was wrong, she never looked the woman in the eye, never said goodbye to her, and never reached out to give her a hug and kiss. That was very uncharacteristic of our little girl, because she is very extroverted and affectionate. Once we took her out of that day care center, and moved her to her present one, her behavior changed almost instantly. She hugs and kisses the women, and while I constantly have to grit my teeth at the women’s idiosyncratic demands, there is no doubt in my mind that my daughter is ecstatic there. Once she is their arms, she doesn’t even notice that I am around. 

6. Finally, GO WITH YOUR INSTINCT. If you have any niggling doubts about a place, don’t bury them. Parenting is not an exact science, but a parent’s instincts, especially a mother’s, are extremely strong, and I only wished in the past that I had gone with my instinct. You can’t take chances with your children. Believe in yourself. It is better to be excessively cautious than be sorry after the fact.

There should be a law passed that each day care center installs a webcam, so that parents can monitor what is going on during the day. I know that certain day care centers in America do this, but it is unpopular among the majority of day care centers. They claim that if they are being watched, they can’t be natural with the children, and that parents will complain over the most trivial things. While this is a legitimate complaint, I think parents would sleep better at night if webcams were installed. I know I would.