Our First Family Trip to Jerusalem

11:20 PM 2 Comments

It has been a while since we posted, and for good reasons. One of them is that we dealt with another bout of sickness in the house filling our nights with mommy-daddy duty. Another is that we took a mini-vacation to Jerusalem--the topic of this post.

I davened here.
As many of you know, before making Aliyah, I had never been to Israel. Rachel came twice when she was younger. But it has been a long time, and she is in a very different place in her life now. Visiting Jerusalem has been a top priority for both of us. Even before we committed to making Aliyah, Rachel always talked about how much she wanted to visit Jerusalem with me for the first time. I myself have been preparing and thinking about visiting the Kotel for the first time with my oldest son ever since he was born.

As we were making our final plans for Aliyah in the weeks leading up to our flight, we knew that we were going to land on a Wednesday, and then have a full week before starting Ulpan. Awesome--I thought. Plenty of time to make a pilgrimage to the Kotel and visit the Old City. HA! I was wrong.

That time was spent doing many other things to adjust to life; there simply was no time for sightseeing just yet. With my hopes dashed of seeing Jerusalem (a few hours north from where we live) in our first few days, I wrote off visiting Jerusalem in my heart for another day. I'd make it there, just not sure when. Afterall, living in a Yishuv in the middle of no-where (aka סוף העולם - "End of the World"), it is sometimes easy to forget that we are in Israel. We can go days on end without seeing much beyond our Yishuv and Ulpan. Leading up to our trip, Rachel kept asking me why I was not exuding more excitement. I think it was because I still did not come to grasp with the "where" of where we live.

Yup, we really are in the middle of the desert.
With some time off for Chanukah, what a great time to visit Jerusalem we thought. We searched online to find a car to rent, booked it, loaded up, and off we went. The kids were excited. Not only were they happy to get into a car to drive somewhere, they were giddy with excitement for our adventure to Jerusalem.
On the road.Ready to rock 'n' roll
For those of you not familiar with Israeli roads, there is a fairly new highway that runs North-South called כביש שש ("Route 6"). I found out that it is a toll road, and travelling it in a rental car can be quite expensive. Also, I may have understood the lady at the car rental place wrong, but it sounded like I needed to go through some phone prompt system to register to pay the tolls. I had no interest in sifting through a Hebrew touch-tone telephone prompt. Since this was our first opportunity to explore Israel, we found an alternate route that brought us through some AMAZING landscapes.

The route went north around Beer Sheva, and then turned east towards the Judean Hills working its way towards Beitar Illit, and then over and around some mountains and into Jerusalem. Even though this route would take longer, we were not in a hurry. Let's take this chance to drive and admire the land of Israel. And we did.

Cellphone cameras do not do it justice.
We should have stopped to take some photos with the SLR.
Israel is only the size of New Jersey, but it encompasses just about as much a variety in topography as does the whole US. And the exciting thing about our journey was that we got to witness the transitions from desert to grassland to hills to forest to mountains. All in two hours. Had the kids not been in the back seat, we would have made many stops to hop out with the camera. Alas, there are not many pictures to show. But for parts of the trip, I felt like I was travelling through the grassy hills on an postcard of Ireland, and around the bendy mountainside curves of California's Route 1. Simply amazing to see and experience.

We arrived in Jerusalem a few hours before Shabbos, and enough time to get settled into our friend's house who would play hostess for the weekend. She lives in Armon Hanatsiv, which is a hillside community that overlooks much of the City. It is a mostly residential neighborhood with (from what I am told) a mixture of religious and non-religious people. For me, I was most taken by the amazing views.

View from Armon HaNatsiv apartment
Sitting on actual Jerusalem stone.
Friday night, I walked to the local shul built into the hillside, and up the Jerusalem stone steps. It struck me that I was not walking into a synagogue trying to recreate the design and feel of Jerusalem. I was walking into the real thing!

That night ... ugh ... signaled the latest return of sickness to the Hopkins family. Our oldest was up most of the night getting sick and making lots of laundry. He spent the better part of the next 24 hours lying stationary in bed. Poor kiddo. His excitement to be in Jerusalem was waning.

By the afternoon we were ready to explore a little. Sitting inside with so much to explore outside was eating us away. We packed the kids up (sicko and all) and went for a walk to the Haas Promenade. It is supposedly known for its vantage overlooking the Old City. Driving into Jerusalem on Friday, Rachel got a few glimpses of the Old City as we turned around this bend or that one. Me? Nope, I was too busy navigating the tight-turning streets. So there we are, Saturday afternoon, shlepping our sick kids through a park to get to see the Old City before it gets too dark. Did we know where we were going? No, not really. But we figured we would find our way. Rachel and I traded turns using our intuition and eventually made our way to the Promenade, and ...



From there, you can see the whole City. Suddenly, it was real. Suddenly it hit me that we were in a place that hostess refers to as "the center of the Universe." Lying before my eyes was the Jerusalem of those dusty-looking photographs on postcards I had seen as a child. Except now ... now it was real. Now Jerusalem was right in front of me. Now I could see it and witness it. And in the morning, we would go there so that we could touch it and experience it. Wow.

The mountainside city of Jerusalem
At a restaurant.
Waitress: "Do you guys need the English menu?"
Sunday morning we got ready and headed off for the day. We had to stop for some breakfast and make a couple stops. Our idea was to make it to the Old City for lunch time, and then head to the Shuk for some food and shopping. HA! I was wrong again.

We parked near the Jaffa Gate and walked straight into the heart of the Old City. Vendors lined the narrow ally selling a host of goods. The streets being covered with awnings and being so narrow made me forget that I was outside. It felt like a long-narrow, stair-laden shopping mall. Yeah, there were a lot of steps. My son--the same one that spent the previous day being sick--jumped and bounded his way through Jerusalem. It was a cute moment, and a bit of happiness in him that I will not forget.
The entryway into the Old City.
See the narrow alley straight ahead? That's one of the main roads.
Street sign to the Western Wall.
And then, seemingly out of no where, there was a sign for the Kotel. I was not so sure what I was going to feel. Was it going to be bigger than I expected? Smaller? Would I well up with emotion or enter with a void of feeling? Afterall, we were lugging three small (and sick) children and a stroller through a not-so-modern path. I was fully engaged in the logistical/strategic planning dad-mode, I did not know if I could snap out of it. Maybe I would enter and there would be an anti-climatic let down.

We entered. My oldest son went with me to the men's side. My wife took my daughter and the baby to the women's side.

We walked in, and I was struck by silence. Yes, there were lots of people about. Praying. Talking. Etc. This was afterall the week of Chanukah, and the weekend before Christmas. A busy time of year in the Holy Land, with lots of people about. There must have been a lot of noise. But I heard none of it.

For me, there was no sound. And then my feet could not move. In the middle of the men's side, I stood frozen. I did not move forward, nor did I move backward. My mind was blank as if there were no thoughts running through my head. I was not sure what I was supposed to do. Time was still. I wanted to move but I could not.

In an instant, I snapped out of it and swooped up my son. I grabbed him tight and cried.

We made our way to the Wall. I found a guy standing by a large table with several Siddurim laying out. I asked him in my broken Hebrew if I could borrow one. He handed me a Siddur. I found an open spot about three stones from the left-most part of the Wall. I leaned forward, kissed the cold smooth stone, and laid my head on the Wall as have millions of pilgrims before me. After some period of time, I walked away from the Wall and heard a minyan forming for Mincha. I jumped in and said Kaddish. A lot went through my brain and my heart in those moments. Honestly, I am not going to write too much more just because I would not know how to explain myself. Joy and sadness. Pride. Awe.
If a picture is worth 1,000 words,
It would take 1,000,000 words to describe this scene in person
Mitzvah Hero
As we were leaving, my son pulled out two dollars that had been given to him in the States to use as Tzedakah. He gladly folded the bills and slipped them into the pushke. A smile came to his face.

The rest of our journey was more exhaustion and sickness. We never made it to the Shuk, and all of our other children proceeded to get sick. We even managed to get our gracious hostess sick. We eventually packed our things up, and trekked back down South. Fulfilled, yet tired.

There are three things that I take away from our journey:
(1) Israel is an amazing land full of an incredible spirit that emanates from the ground itself;
(2) Jerusalem is a real place, and it is full of a holy awe and wonder that turns belief into reality; and
(3) Our "home" is in Israel, it is located in the the Negev, and coming back to it reaffirms our decision to make our lives in this tiny little village tucked away in the desert called Kfar Retamim.
This picture says it all.


Language Barriers

3:39 PM 0 Comments

It has been a big couple of weeks here in the Hopkins home. We started Ulpan, each family member had their first trip to the health clinic, we had our first Shabbat guest, did our first online grocery order, first campfire (מדורה - a new word) etc etc.... There is so much to tell, so I am going to give you the highlights. Some funny, some frustrating, and some a little of both.

Here are 5 things that took me by surprise in the past two weeks....

1. The latest installment in the bus saga.

Tzippy's day care called to say that she was having loose stool and wanted to know if they could put her in pull ups. It was about 10:30 and she told me that although I didn't have to come get her now, I would need to if she had another loose stool (totally understandable).

I, however, was at Ulpan in the next town over without a car. I got nervous that if I didn't go back to Retamim on the 11:00 bus, I would have no way to get back until the end of Ulpan at 1:00. So I did as any reasonable parent would do, and walked to the bus stop to get on the 11:00 bus. This was my first time on the public bus and I was going alone so that Adam and I didn't both miss the end of class. Needless to say I was a little nervous about the logistics of paying and getting through the gate at Retamim etc.

I got to the clearly marked bus stop, counted out my bus fare--13.30₪--and waited. I noticed there was an electronic sign stating that the bus to Retamim would be arriving in 3 minutes (in Hebrew of course). I felt a little better knowing that the bus was coming. There were 5 other people waiting as well, I was in the right spot. I knew that the bus comes from Beersheva, stops at Revivim, goes to Retamim, back to Revivim and then off to Beersheva, so I assumed the others were waiting to go to Beersheva or somewhere along that route.

Israeli hitchhiking signal
Source: Haaretz.com
Three minutes go by and I see the bus pulling in. I start to get ready. The bus pulls in and makes a U-turn to be facing the correct direction. Then the bus slows down and drives right past the bus stop. I looked at the man standing next to me clearly confused. He started speaking to me in Hebrew and told me that the bus was going to Retamim first and not to worry it would be back in 10 minutes to go to Beersheva. I understood everything he said but wanted to be clear with him that if this conversation were to continue that I needed him to speak slowly. So I said in my broken Hebrew אני מבינה קצת עברית אני רוצה לנסוע לרתמים. (I understand a little Hebrew. I want to go to Retamim). He looked at me totally dumbfounded and said "You speak English?" I nodded. He continued, in a very condescending voice "well the bus doesn't stop unless you put your arm out" (put his hand straight out like an Israeli hitch hiker). I looked at him near tears at this point and said לא ידעתי (I didn't know). "Well, you should have asked someone. Now you can't get there."

Now let me be clear, the bus schedule, the permanent sign, and the electronic sign all said that the bus goes to Retamim. Now, I've never been a public bus maven, BUT where I come from these things indicate that a bus is coming and will stop so that people going to Retamim can board. What could I have possibly thought to ask? I looked at the man and said עכשו אני מבינה (now I understand) and walked back to class.

2. Having a 4 year-old translate for you.

I am sure immediately you all thought I meant my 4 year-old. That day has not arrived although I am positive it is not too far in the future. He has a friend in his Gan, we'll call him Yoni. Yoni speaks English at home and Hebrew the rest of the time. He has been a GREAT friend to our son since we arrived. The other day I was reading a baby book in Hebrew to our baby and two-year old, trying to translate it as I read. I got to לפעמים אני ער (Sometimes I am awake) and said I don't know what  ער (awake) means. Yoni popped out of the kids' room and said "I do." I asked him what it meant. He said "it means ער" (awake) thinking he was telling me the English translation. As I looked at him expectantly he realized that he said the Hebrew word and corrected himself "It means awake."

I guess that's what happens when you are bilingual. Sometimes you don't know which language is which.

3. Google Translate

Chinese oranges
Here at Retamim there is a Google mailgroup where everyone can email and it goes out to the whole yishuv. People e-mail things about upcoming community events, lost bicycles, house sharing (another thing that surprised me) etc... Someone sent out an e-mail last week that read: מונח מחוץ לביתנו ארגז עם תפוז סיני - מוזמנים לבוא לקחת, Adam put the whole thing into Google translate and got this in return: "Lying outside our house with an orange crate Chinese - are invited to take" Adam sent this translation out to the Retamim Google group so everyone could get a good laugh about it. The real translation was about a crate of Chinese oranges (kumquats) outside the family's home that they were offering people to take. Just goes to show that one actually needs to learn Hebrew and not try to get by on Google translate.

4. Home Phone

We have a land line. There are few people with the number. Okay maybe only one. Adam and I are not included in that group either, we don't know the number. There have been a few times over the last few weeks that it has rang and a recording of a woman speaking Hebrew was there asking for us to push this number for that and that number for this. I just hung up. A couple of days ago the phone rang and Adam answered. Next thing I know he hands the phone to me, so of course I assume that its someone I know or at least someone I could converse with. Nope. Some lady starts jabbering in Hebrew as fast as she could. I was picking up words here and there but honestly had NO IDEA what she saying. I was finally able to stop her and said. אני לא מבינה עברית (I don't understand Hebrew). She then asked if my husband was better in Hebrew. I said  לא, אנחנו עולים חדשים (no, we are new immigrants). She said "Oh that's nice, can you get someone who speaks Hebrew." Adam went next door and got our neighbor. We could then only hear his end of the conversation which was in Hebrew so again, I got words here and there. It turns out this woman had the wrong number and was calling to speak to אמא של מתן "Matan's mother". Adam was rightfully confused because that is our son's middle name, and so far everyone has called Adam by his middle name so the assumption that this person was merely confused makes sense. The information she was seeking we did not have because alas, we are not Matan's parents and do not speak Hebrew.

5. Playdates

Something that I did not anticipate having difficulty with, probably because I didn't even think about it was play dates. DUH its hard enough managing a play date with new friends when the kid does speak your language and you theirs. You still walk the line of learning what the kid likes to do, balancing your kid's needs with the new kid's needs, trying to be "likable" and gain the trust of a the kid while still maintaining the structure and boundaries that normally exist in your home etc... Here in Retamim (and I think a lot of Israel) children at a very young age are given a lot of freedom. We will call it a longer leash than I am used to.

The other day a boy from our oldest's class came over to play. On the way home from school, he and his dad saw Adam and Gavi walking back, so he dropped him off and they walked home together (without a kippah or shoes--our kids have started the no shoes thing also). The two boys went to the playground with Adam and our daughter. A little while later Adam came back to take our daughter to the bathroom. A minute later there was a knock on the door and I told the person to come in (I was sitting holding the baby), it was the boy's father, holding a kippah. He came in looked around and said where is Efraim (not his real name of course). I told him that they went to the playground and off he went. On a side note--I got a little nervous since Adam left the boys at the playground alone but I am pretty sure that is just me here, most parents here let their kids go to the playground alone. That whole short leash/long leash thing.

A little while later I walked over to the playground with the other two kids to see if the boys wanted to go to the library. I could easily ask my son this question. His response was "is Efraim going?" Hmmmm I wasn't sure, because I didn't know how to ask him. I used my little Hebrew to gain his attention and say בוא איתנו לסיפריה (come to the library with us--I think). He stood up and came over...SUCCESS.

Off we went to the library. Or so I thought, as we are walking (remember these kids are four they have short attention spans), Efraim veers off the path and starts playing, which of course lures my two off the path and so here I am wearing the baby trying to negotiate with the three kids to keep walking to the library. Not an easy feat since when I spoke, one of them only heard "blah blah blah." We finally got to the library. Yay other people that speak Hebrew and can tell this kiddo what I need to say.

We start looking at books and Efraim picked his out, went to the desk ... and then disappeared. At this point I had two fighting kids and a cranky baby. I checked out with my books and started walking home.

I think he went home.

I'm pretty sure he went home.

I haven't heard otherwise....

Next installment will be about Hopkins Hospital very soon.


Clean Laundry

3:12 PM 2 Comments

Here is a new immigrant story for you.

Picture us just a day or so after we have landed. We have a new home that was generously filled with all sorts of goodies to make it feel like home. Food in the fridge. A pantry full of food. And, a bathroom stocked with cleaning supplies.

What kind of cleaning supplies you ask? (okay, I get it you did not ask that question in your head, because who really thinks about cleaning supplies? But for this story, pretend like you asked me that question)

I am glad you asked.

Here is what we found.

So after a whirlwind adventure, we naturally had a lot of laundry to be done. My brave wife decided to tackle the beast of a new washing machine. In Framingham, there was really only two settings: on and off. I guess you could also choose from cold/warm/hot temperatures, but it was a fairly dummy proof washing machine.

This one ... this one has a lot of settings. And all the temperatures are in Celsius, of course. Piloting an airplane looks less complicated than this thing. Brave Rachel decided to tackle it, and guess what? She succeeded. She successfully figured out how to start the washing machine. Hooray!

Which of these fine cleaning products did we decide to use for our first attempt at laundering our clothes? Why this one, of course.
Beautifully scented laundry detergent
For those of you who speak Hebrew, hold your laughter please.

It seemed to make the most sense. It looked like liquid laundry detergent. We narrowed down the others. One was fabric softener, another was for baby clothes, toilet bowl cleaner was obvious, as was the dish soap. Clearly, we were right. In the States, we had several kinds of laundry detergents. Usually, for the mixed laundry of all of our clothes, we reached for the liquid stuff, and not the powdered baby detergent.

Well, I must say, that first load seemed like a huge success! The clothes came out clean. They smelled wonderful. Now all we needed to do was hang them on the drying rack that was provided for us and put them out in the Sun to dry. Not so bad. Hard task made easy. We got the hang of this. Right?

A few days go by and a neighbor is over. I'll spare you some of the details and let you in on the secret.

That green bottle? Not laundry detergent. Its floor cleaner.



Quick Bit: One for Three With Bus Drivers

5:17 PM 0 Comments

Real quick story to share. Since we have been in Israel, we have been on the bus only a handful of times. We have seen three bus drivers. If you are following along, you know about our first experience and how well that went.

The savior of that story was the lady who greeted us at Revivim. Let's call her Chana.

Today, on the way back from Ulpan, there was supposed to be a bus to bring us back to Retamim and some of the other students back to their Kibbutz that is also nearby.

Rachel and I get on the bus and I confirm with the driver that we are heading to Retamim.

"No, we are not going to Retamim. Only the Kibbutz."

"Why not? We need to go to Retamim."

"I cannot go to Retamim. That is not for me."

This goes on for a minute or so. Back and forth. And then we get kicked off the bus. Great.

This is not ACTUALLY where we were kicked off the bus.
Just a road I happened to photograph today and I decided to use here for dramatic effect.
See the cacti at the end of the road?
Oh yeah, the conversation was in Hebrew. So, I guess the one good thing about getting kicked off the bus with no way to get home was that I had my first argument in Hebrew. That's an accomplishment, right?

Just like before, Chana saved the day and did her thing to yell at the bus driver.

So, like the title says, we are batting one for three with bus drivers. The one time that we had a good bus driver ... Chana was on the bus when it picked us up. I suppose the lesson learned is that we should not travel by bus without our personal bus-driver-yeller. Everyone needs one. Ours is Chana.