לאט לאט (Slowly Slowly)

2:30 PM 1 Comments

When we planned for Aliyah there were many things we expected to be wonderful (they are wonderful, and there are so many more that we didn't expect that are also) and there are things we expected to be difficult. I'd be lying if I said that nothing about Aliyah is hard. A lot of it is hard. We are living in the middle of the desert, with no car, in a community where the spoken language is not one that we speak fluently. Our family is on another continent with a minimum of a 7 hour time difference. We watch our children go to school/daycare everyday to a place where they can't communicate freely with the other children. Some things are down right HARD.

This is a פלפל ("Peel-pell")
The issue that I have found to be the most difficult—and especially the most surprisingly so—is the language combined with not having a car. This is not an issue that merely rears its ugly head when you want to ask your neighbor to borrow a pepper (פלפל by the way) or when you want to make small talk while waiting to pick up your son at school. Its not even just something that effects social interaction. By this, I mean that the very most difficult part of not speaking the language has not been a difficulty making friends, it has been losing my independence.

I fancy myself a very independent person—asking for help is not something I am apt to do very frequently. However, since we have been here, I have been severely humbled by the fact that I need help doing things that I have been doing on my own for many years. Example: doing laundry for instance (re: floor cleaner).

One of the more challenging, and even demeaning, of these tasks that I can no longer do on my own is taking care of my sick children. I not only don't speak the language fluently, but I don't have a car and am in the early stages of understanding healthcare here. This makes for a perfect storm of dependency on others to take your children to the clinic, let alone even deciding if they need to go to the clinic. We are fortunate enough to have a couple of doctors and a nurse that live in the community who have all been very helpful in helping to decide if the kids need to go to the clinic. I, however, feel like an inept parent needing to ask.

There is a lot of red tape involved in uprooting your life and becoming a citizen in another country (although it is still surprising that you can be a citizen just after stepping off a plane). There are people to see, offices to visit, eye tests to be had, bank tasks to handle, etc... Needless to say we often can not do these errands on our own. Therefore they require a lot of pre-planning in order to bring a translator (ie. neighbor) with us.

Like it or not, this is our pace now.
When discussing anything having to do with adjusting and/or getting settled here in Israel, the typical response from Israelis is: "Don't worry, לאט לאט (slowly, slowly)."  And this is true.

Slowly, slowly we will be absorbed into Israeli society.

לאט לאט we will gain our independence back.

Slowly, slowly we will get a grasp on the language.

לאט לאט we will find jobs, make friends, and settle into life here at Retamim.

However, there are things for which we began to say לאט ,לאט only two months ago, and more progress has been made in a short time than I ever could have imagined.

Yesterday our eldest son rode his "motorcycle" to a friend's house ... ALONE. Frankly I didn't think that would ever happen. Our daughter is understanding and speaking Hebrew like its not even a different language—she still has no idea that it is. And the baby has adjusted to daycare so well that he is eating, drinking, napping and playing just like all the other kids. His eyes now light up when he sees food he can eat.

When we drop the kids at גן (preschool) and מעון (daycare) in the mornings there are more days with zero kids crying than not. This is progress. Our home is coming together nicely; Adam is quickly knocking projects off the list. We are making friends and becoming involved in the community.

This undertaking is HUGE. We turned our lives upside down and inside out, but here we are—merely two months later—miles from where we started on November 19th. לאט לאט  is certainly a fair estimation. But, after just nine weeks in, I think we're doing just fine.


Visiting Retamim

4:11 PM 0 Comments

Earlier this week, NBN's Go South team came south from their office in Beer Sheva to see Retamim. Besides eating the yummy sandwiches they brought us, we were happy to show them around and not feel like the new guys for a moment.

Anyway, here is a nice blog written about their visit.


Quick Bit: Construction Time About to Commence

2:11 PM 28 Comments

Packing label from one of the many boxes on our lift.

Here in Retamim, we have a small house. Two bedrooms, a main living room and a bathroom. All tucked into just under 600 square feet. Needless to say, there is not a whole lot of storage space.

Our life in 200 cubic feet.
In just a couple weeks, our container of stuff shall be arriving. Several months ago, a team of 3 guys packed up our stuff and somehow squeezed it into this tiny 200 cubic feet crate. That's all well and good, but here we are sitting in a small house awaiting the arrival of lots of stuff.

And by that, I mean lots of toys and books. Of the 60 boxes that are on that lift, at least 30 of them bear the label "toys." Ugh.

I think you can see where this post is heading. We have lots of things coming, and very little place to put them.

What to do?

O, what to do?

The solution? מחסן. (Machsan).

When I first heard this word, I was not sure what it meant. My friendly neighbor translated it for me as "warehouse." To me, a warehouse is some monstrous building like the ones owned by that Internet company named after a rainforest (What is it called? Congo?) A better translation is shed. So, I need a shed.

Luckily there is a nice (sort of) slab of concrete next to our house. Perfect place for our shed ... err ... warehouse.

Future home of our מחסן.
Friday I went with a neighbor to purchase all of the lumber I need. But, I ended up purchasing more than just the materials needed for the מחסן, I also purchased enough wood to build:

(1) a bedroom shelf/desk system;
(2) pantry shelves;
(3) pantry cart; and
(4) kids' bookshelves.

I have my work cut out for me. Happily, I will embark on this project in the coming weeks. Let's hope it is all done by the time the ship gets here. You can expect a further post with some photos and hopefully a story that goes something like: wow, that was easy.

O, and very cool, you can track out ship. It is called the MSC Shaula.
Hmm, which one is my container?


Dear Kids, ...

5:42 PM 0 Comments

Note: This was written several weeks ago. I just have not yet had the courage to post it live. I think now we are ready to do so.

Dear Kids,

Today something terrible happened. It is hard to talk to you about it since you are all still so young. To my oldest, I know that mama tried to talk with you, but it is just too hard to understand right now. To my younger children, I am glad that you are still young enough that events like these pass without you realizing it. So, I am writing this letter. Some day you all will live in a world where truths like these must be faced, and it is never easy.

We have been living in Retamim for almost a month. The people here have accepted us into their community, and we are making friends and our lives here. Every smile that comes across your faces in this Land brightens the sunshine just a little more. Your pain and hurt, brings us deep sadness. And that is why this is very difficult to talk with you about this.

You see, the friends that we have made here in Retamim are in pain. Their hearts are broken. A couple nights ago, one of the fathers was in a car accident. A bad one. Sadly, he did not make it. Today the community said goodbye and laid him to rest in ground of the community that he helped to build. I still cannot fully grasp the profundity of that act.

I wanted to write something. But I have no words that I could express to the community of Retamim that would be appropriate to handle the magnitude of what has been going on. My sentiments cannot ease the hurt. My Hebrew language not developed enough to even express my remorse to them. And when I think about the purpose of this blog--just like our Adventure--it is for you. This blog is meant to capture our story of our Aliyah for you to read and reflect upon years down the road, such as when you will be able to comprehend the gravity of sorrow that is currently felt by this loss. Like it or not, this tragic event is now a part of the story of Retamim, and therefore, it is a part of our Adventure. And because I cannot address them, I address the future yous.

You see kids, I witnessed something today that was both heartwrenching, and holy. A man that was utterly dedicated to his family, to Judaism, to Israel, and to the vision of making the desert bloom, was laid into that desert. As that was happening, beams of bright sunshine broke through the clouds and illuminated the scene. That itself was, in its own way, beautiful. The land here is holy, and everywhere you look there is awesomeness. A land full of awe. A land that is now the final resting place for a man that welcomed us and many others into his vision and home. Even beams of sunlight carry meaning.

It is the occurrence of tragedies like this shakes us to our cores. How could this happen? But to answer, we must have faith that an answer will come to us. Another tragedy is that we can allow our daily lives to become so comfortable that we forget about the splendor of life. Your mother and I came to the conclusion that we did not want that to happen to us. We wanted to live each day; truly live. We wanted to show you, our children, that life is an amazing gift that will reward you with what you put into it.

So there we were. Your mother and I. Standing amidst throngs of people listening to words spoken in a tongue we are only sort of familiar with. But even if the words passed us by, the sentiment did not. We felt the emotions just the same because on certain level, we are all connected. Tragedies like this allow us to connect on that level--even if we cannot at other times of our lives--and we were able to grieve with everyone. I hope that collective grief was comforting to the family and close friends, and will continue to be as they work through the mourning process in the coming days, weeks and months.

When you reach that age when you comprehend this, I want you to come to me. I want you to ask me about today. I want to tell you in person, with my spoken word (even though I prefer to write), what I saw this afternoon. Ask me about the funeral and the procession. Ask me what I witnessed as a community paid more respect to a single person than I have ever seen with my eyes before. Ask me about the events that unfolded before my eyes that shook me as I stood beside the grave. I will not forget. I will tell you. Just not now. Not when you are still so pure. Someday though you will need to know.

That is how life works. We pass knowledge and love from one to another through the ages. I am honored to be your father so that I can pass my torch to you.


Shabbat and Some Magic

8:40 AM 0 Comments

Note: This was written on Motzei Shabbos this past week. It just took us a few days to get it posted.

Walking around today I was struck by the magic and quaintness of our community. This community is warm and welcoming, and friendly everyday. But Shabbat is a time when I am reminded especially of the reason we chose to move to a community like this.

A Typical Shabbat in the Yishuv

The rhythm of the week is different here than in the U.S., it is even different than in observant Jewish communities in the U.S. The work week typically runs Sunday through Thursday. This leaves Friday for Shabbat preparation and Shabbat for well... Shabbat.

Gan and Maon end early on Fridays, but leave just enough time to do errands and finish Shabbat cooking and cleaning. Everyone in the Yishuv is engaging in these activities. Everyone at the same time. On Thursday evening there is always a flurry of emails asking if anyone is going to a grocery store Friday morning. There is a man in the Yishuv who since the end of the situation this Summer takes challot and flower orders from people in the Yishuv and drives to Sderot to buy them Friday morning (We already learned it is not possible to buy challot on Thursday--how ridiculous of us to even think so!). The challah is delicious and its good to know we are helping someone keep their business profitable.

The anticipation for Shabbat around the Yishuv is palpable. As the time gets closer to sundown people are running around trying to get things done. Often Friday is a time when you see dads doing pickup and taking the kids out to play while moms finish in the house.

Eighteen minutes before sundown it all ceases. It almost feels like a collective deep breath. I light my candles make sure the kids are dressed and send them off to shul with Adam. I make sure the food is on the Blech and put the finishing touches on my own attire and off I go to meet them at shul. After Kabalat Shabbat, everyone wishes each other a Shabbat Shalom and people head off to wherever they will be enjoying Shabbat dinner.

Shabbat morning one will see many men on the men's side starting at 8. Often they have some or all of the children with them. Adam usually brings our oldest and sometimes our daughter as well. By 9 or 9:30 most of the women have arrived with the rest of the children and the Tefilat Yeladim (children's service) begins at 9:40. Both services end around 10:00. There is a shiur after services (it's in Hebrew so we usually don't stay in to listen). After services on Saturday is when the magic and quaintness is most evident.

The Magic of Shabbat

I will use today as an example. Adam was not feeling 100% yesterday and this morning, so we decided to stay home and daven (pray) there. At around 10:15 we started to see people coming back from shul and decided we would get ready and take a walk before we were expected at a neighbors for lunch. We all got dressed, put the kids in the carrier and stroller, and started out on our walk to nowhere in particular.

We walked towards a part of the Yishuv that we don't typically walk in because its not on the way to Gan, Maon or Shul. On our way, every person we walked by said Shabbat Shalom and it seemed as though everyone in the Yishuv was out trying to catch a few minutes of Sunlight and fresh air on this cold Winter day.

As we were walking through one of the neighborhoods, we saw a group of people making Kiddush outside. They invited us to come over to have a drink and some cake. We sat with them for a few minutes, made some small talk, and then were on our way again. Already we were feeling refreshed.

We must have walked past 30-40% of people in the Yishuv and everyone wished us a Shabbat Shalom. It was a nice feeling to walk around and know everyone, have them know us, and be able to wish each other Good Shabbos.

The day continued, we had a lovely lunch at our neighbors' house, the kids enjoyed playing together (our oldest almost decided to stay longer by himself, which in itself is a huge statement about his comfort level) and we took the kids home for a nap. Shabbat afternoon passed uneventfully, a little rest, a snack, Havdallah, dinner, showers and bed.

We went into Shabbat feeling battle-worn and sick from the week. We emerged refreshed and renewed.

The Magic of Good People

As I started to do the dishes, there was a knock on the door. I went and answered it and it was our neighbor who is also our host family. She said she was coming to check to make sure we were "still alive" since she had not seen us at all on Shabbat (like I said, we did not go to shul, and walked in a different area than normal). We talked for a few minutes about the coming week and she went back home.

After she left, I continued to wash my Shabbat dishes, and I started thinking about the interaction. I know that clearly the comment about making sure we were alive was a joke, but the whole interaction made me think about this community. We are making friends. People care about our well-being. We are making a life here. We have fallen into the rhythm of the week, and the rhythm of Shabbat. We are making a home here, and so far its more than we ever could have hoped.

Thank you Retamim.

If its not obvious, this is not a picture from Shabbat.