Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pesach Round Up

This is the first time that it really struck me that Pesach is a time for both remembering and creating memories. It has been a theme that has carried it's way throughout the entire week.

During Hallel on Seder night, each new tune brought back a different memory transporting my thoughts to different points in my life. It was like an EMDR session without having to keep score during the process. Aside from a beautiful davening those memories put the reflective spin on the week of Pesach.

We all had a great time at the seder which was 100% focused on keeping the kids involved. It is the first time I have ever seen a decoy Afikomen. Peri made macaroons for dessert. Our hosts described the experience as going back to their childhood when you first opened the tin can and ate that first 'fresh' macaroon. Considering how rare they are in Israel, it probably had been a long time since they had that experience.

The entire night reminded me of the Seder in Bnei Brak that is mentioned in the Haggadah. The Rabbi's were so involved that they stayed up all night and didn't even realize that it was already time for davening. Our Seder had to be pushed along when we realized that we were 2 hours away from chatzot and we were still in the middle of Magid.

The Maharal points to some hints in the Haggadah's accounting of the seder in Bnei Brak as clues to what time of night it was. The Rabbis were sitting at the seder and not simply learning in the beit medrash and they were reclining and relaxing indicating that they were there out of enjoyment and not coercion. Our Seder ended at 1:30 more as a result of the adults running out of steam (kids dropped off through out the night) then out of any desire to end the Seder.

Last year we ate out at a restaurant over Pesach more out of the fact that we could then anything else. To me it is one of the perks of living in Israel. Eating outside while our hometowns were digging out of snow just added to the appreciation of how great it is to live here. This year we even had a chance to compare the differences in menus of Cafe Cafe and Rimon. This is becoming an enjoyable tradition for our family.

I also tried the Charoset flavored ice cream this year. My opinion was a little more favourable then most of the others I have read. Then again my job forces me to wade into the debate of what should flavoured coffee taste like on a regular basis.

We also did two major tiyulim over the week. The first was a trip to the festival in Mavo Moddiim. It was a chance for family time to relax and enjoy the greenery and the music while checking out some of the unique vendors. Channah and I also caught the end of a juggling act, while we went to check out a part of the festival we had missed on our way in because it was tricky navigating the stroller. Unfortunately Channah has been exposed to too much good talent that she just isn't impressed by a kid juggling three swords or blowing fire. When Scott Seltzer is your base level for juggling skills, I guess that is bound to happen. It also doesn't help that Channah used to watch Britian's Got Talent with her Eema or that Peri had introduced her to America's Got Talent the day before.

For our second major tiyul we teamed up with Nefesh B'Nefesh on their trip to Neot Kedumim. I have been on a lot of guided tours but I still managed to learn a lot including why wine was the staple drink in biblical Israel and some practical insights to the story of choosing Rifka as a wife for Yitzchak. Channah had fun doing the arts and craft project before it was time to head home.

We also got to spend an evening with adopted family before heading into the last day of Yom Tov.

On Friday Yizkor was a few minutes to reflect on what was and is no more. With a Bat Mitvah less than a year away, Channah stayed in for it as well.

On Friday night we enjoyed having guests. We decided to not go the kitniyot route for Shabbat this year, although I really wanted to.

It has been almost 12 years since I said that I would never agree to do Kvater again. I was tired of being embarrassed and humiliated by the experience. On Shabbat morning I found myself carrying a little baby boy towards the same chair that Shlomo had been in only a few months earlier. It was a completely different experience. There was so much love and hakares hatov in the decision to give us such an honour. It was really an incredible experience.

It is an obligation on each individual person to see themselves as if they have come up out of Egypt. For me this was not only a clear lesson that kept reoccurring through the week but will hopefully be inspiration to keep me on track through the next stage of personal growth.

The Jews who left Egypt didn't just leave for the sake of getting out of Egypt. They left for a purpose with a destination to get to. Unfortunately they were not able to let go of the baggage that had accumulated through generations of slavery. This made them unable to reach their full potential living in the land of Israel. That didn't mean their lives were devoid of meaning. In the desert they lived under God's full protection with all of their nutritional needs met with food falling from the sky and a chance to be close to God. That spiritual existence didn't allow them to experience what it was like to obtain a spiritual connection to God through mundane activities. They couldn't reach their full spiritual growth. It only took one generation to transition as a nation to be able to take the huge spiritual step forward.

In many ways I can relate the idea of what life was like in the desert. I have pulled myself out of some really scary places. Life is pretty good. I also feel that I still have not reached the point of being able to take the next step forward to fully embrace and maximize the potential of where I have come. We are working on ways to remove the stigma from Channah as the kid who lost her mother. I still need to learn to let go of some of my own baggage. It took the Jews who left Egypt an entire generation to make the complete spiritual transformation. I am well on the path to achieving it for myself.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Election Conundrum

Israel will once again go to the polls next Tuesday in National Elections. I am finding my Facebook feed filled with friends trying to decide how to choose from the 26 party lists that are running this time around. This is my 3rd National Election since moving here and the first time I find myself in the same boat as my friends.

I have always taken politics very seriously from enjoying political satire as a kid to taking Political Science courses as my electives in University. In first year University I wrote a paper on the importance election spending limits and ended up writing a paper on how they favour the incumbent. I proctored in the last Ontario election before I made Aliyah and signed the nomination papers of someone who went on to become an MP. I used to read sections transcripts from question period, so that I could have a better understanding of some of the stories in the news. In the last couple of years, that intense focus on politics has fallen to the wayside and I am not as informed as I feel I should be on many of the important issues. This choosing how to cast my ballot even more difficult.

Standard political theory is that most people have political leanings somewhere towards the centre. Political parties try to focus their elections on appealing to the 'mushy middle' where the largest voter base is located. This makes the differences in political party platforms to be on relatively minor issues leading to stable Government policy.  Most voters don't see a huge difference in their everydays lives which is the reason why I personally believe there is so much voter apathy in Western Democratic Countries.

Under the broken Israeli system the focus is on sectorial parties that only cater to a very limited demographic. This leads to short sighted government policy designed to benefit individualized groups instead of what is best for the country. It is no wonder that the Government will pass laws to target an individual person.

The Conundrum:

Likud -- מחל
Bibi is an incredibly skilled politician with incredible survival instincts. He is capable of putting together a coalition to keep himself in power not matter what is needed to make it work. It is likely he will spend his time undoing the legislation that he passed in the current Government. He called an election calling for electoral reform aimed at at two party system. I think the American two party system is a terrible roll model. I also don't think he should be rewarded for calling an unneccesary election.

Zionist Union -- אמת
Tzipi Livni is the slimiest self serving politician in Israel. Her negotiating skills have proven to be a failure time and time again.  The merger of Labor and Hatnua is underscores what is wrong with the electoral system.  Splitting the Premiership gaurtenees more short sightedness in Government policy. The last time Livni took over from the Prime Minister as Party leader, she was not able to negotiate a coalition and we were forced to go to the polls.

Yisrael Beiteinu -- ל
Upon arriving in Israel I got involved in the party. A friend I trust for their political views got me involved. Through those connections, I met two other people who I have also come to trust for their political insight. Of the group of three my friend recently left the party. I assume it was for personal reasons. Another took a job where alignment with a political party would be a conflict of interest. The 3rd is running on their ticket. I met Former Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Danny Ayalon who I have a lot of respect for in his roll as MK. He was dumped by the party before the last election. I also met Yair Shamir before the last election who really captured the mindset of what a politician should be focusing on. He has quit the party. In my mind something may be wrong in the party which is making me second guess voting for them a 3rd time.

Bayit Yehudi -- טב
My problem with them in the past is there identification as Zionist Religous Party. To me it represented the sectorial politics that is ruining the political system. This time around they have been buidling themselves up as a mainstream party with candidates outside of core support of their party. It may have allienated some of their more loyal supporters but it has caught my attention as possible voting option.

Yesh Atid -- פה
Dov Lipman is a local hero or villain depending on religious affiliation. I have just always felt that I couldn't relate to the party. From there projection of middle class as people able to only buy 2 apartments for their 3 children and unable to travel outside the country every single year, left me feeling allienated from the party. Wouldn't creating a formal market for rental housing be more effective for young families than offering a tax break if they are able to put the money together to buy an apartment?  Yesh Atid is also responsible for the end of the country wide water floridization program. I am in favour of making the draft law equal for all citizens. Yesh Atid went hard after the Haredi communtiy and came up with 'Much Ado About Nothing' legistlation with such a long implementation period that it will probably be overturned before it even goes into effect. The details of the law could leave things status quo even if it is not over turned.

Kulanu -- כ
I don't know much about Moshe Kahlon. I am not a fan of forming new political parties just before elections, especially with the intent of landing a specific ministirial job. They do have a vote sharing agreement with Yisrael Beiteinu. 

UTJ -- ג
I can't stand the Daas Torah approach to politics. UTJ demonstrated how much they only care about their narrow demographics, crying descrimination for not being included Government.

Shas -- שס
It is always a problem for a political party when they lose a charismatic leader who essentiallly is the party. Keeping Rav Ovadia alive is not a solution. I think people will see through the anti-poverty campaign as Shas has a terrible record in this area. Unless you are one of the people who consider Aryeh Deri a hero, for the rest his background would end most politcal careers.

Meretz -- מרצ
Aside from being the opposite of everything I believe in they tried to sign a vote sharing agreement with the United Arab List.

United Arab List -- ודעם
They include Balad with MK Zoabi. 

Yachad -- קץ
I feel bad for how Eli Yishai has been treated by Shas. Kudos to him for walking out on the party to try to make it on his own. I think this is going to turn into just another Haredi Party despite the fact they are claiming to reach into the DTL community as well. I was not a fan of Yishai when he was Interior Minister.

Pirates -- ף
Who doesn't like pirates?

Greens Don't Give A Fuck -- רק
Formerly known as the Green Party. I don't think the name change is going to make a difference.
Green Leaf Party -- קנ
If you want to vote for marijuana this is the party for you. 

U'Bizchutan -- נז
I love the idea of a female haredi party of breaking through the glass ceiling of haredi politics. Wishful thinking would have this leave to a break out of some of the extremism of the haredi community.  The little I have heard of their policies are just as limited in scope as the other haredi parties.

Kulanu Chaverim Na Nach -- ףץ
If the Breslov Party gets elected they would be the happiest most enthusiastic party in the Knesset. Plus you get to vote for a putz.

The parties I don't know enough about to comment:
Social Leadership -- יז
Protecting Our Children - Stop Feeding Them Porn -- יך
Flower -- נץ
Arab List -- ע
Economy Party -- ז
Or -- ני
Selected People -- זץ
Renters with Dignity -- י
Hope for Change -- יץ
Supporters of Democracy -- זך

With 26 parties to choose from I think I am leaning towards Bayit Yehudi with the slim possibility of returning to Yisrael Beiteinu. I consider Pirates as my go to protest vote but I don't see that happening. There is still plenty of time and I am willing to consider other voting options.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bringing Home my Sefer Torah

Around the time Channah was born the Journeys 4 CD had recently come out. The songs from that CD accompanied me on many trips back and forth to the hospital to visit Rachel and Channah. One particular song that has clung with me was The Man From Vilna. 

Full Lyrics

We danced round and round in circles as if the world had done no wrong
From evening until morning, filling up the shul with song
Though we had no sifrei Torah to gather in our arms
In their place we held those children, the Jewish people would live on
Am yisrael chai

On Simchat Torah of that year I sang this song to myself as I danced with her. I continued to sing the song to myself every Simchat Torah.  The year Rachel was pregnant with Gabi was the first year Channah was too big to dance with me. I took consolation in the fact that I would have Gabi to dance with the next year. Of course that dream never came true, although I did have Kol HaNarim both Simchat Torahs before Rachel died.

At my Of Roof, Channah turned to Peri and asked her if she would give me a Sefer Torah. Sunday 
our Shannah Rishonah will draw to a close with our Hebrew Anniversary. This evening I got to bring home my Sefer Torah. Holding him in my arms brings me so much joy.

My Sefer Torah

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Night of Channukah

Tonight is the first night of Channukah. Which of course leads to the traditional question, why is this night different from all other nights?

For starters Peri has been in the hospital since last Tuesday. I am completely emotionally drained from the twisting drive to and from the hospital while trying to keep some sense of normalcy at home. Today I had to give myself a break and stay home.

It was also our little boy's first ever Channukah. Through the power of FaceTime we were able to have the whole family together for candle lighting. Channah, me and the dogs were at home, while Peri and Blobby joined in from the hospital.

Afterwards Channah and I watched some Channukah music videos while we ate dinner. We had lasagna that was prepared ahead of time for when Peri was going to be in the hospital. We also had latkes that Channah made with her friend this afternoon.

We found this year's batch of videos to be disappointing compared to other years.  Of course this one still remains my all time favourite.

Blobby received medical clearance to come home this afternoon. Peri's status is still uncertain. There is a possibility that she could be sent home tomorrow. They may want to keep her a little bit longer.

The events surrounding the pregnancy and my son's birth has given me an entirely new dimension to understanding and appreciating the lessons of Channukah. If his Bris is over Channukah I will share them then. If not I will write about them in the next few days.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Baby Announcment and Pictures

It is with tremendous pleasure and HaKarat HaTov  that Peri and I would like to welcome our little baby boy.

He was born on Friday afternoon at 2:04 pm.  At 2198 grams (4 lbs 13 oz; same weight as when I was born) he is considered a Preemie.

This afternoon for the second time in my life I got to hold a live newborn baby.

We would like to thank everyone who has helped us along the way.

Peri and Jason

First Bottle

Monday, October 13, 2014

Local Entertainment -- Sukkot 5775

So far this Chol HaMoed we have stuck with local entertainment. Yesterday we went to see the circus at the local mall (Big Fashion). Today we went to the Biblical Museum of Natural History which opened yesterday by Rabbi Slifkin.

Every evening over Chol HaMoed, Big Fashion is having a circus show. The theme yesterday was African Circus. In the middle of the mall on the main floor they section off a section for the show. We got there early enough to get a spot upstairs with a great view.  The area around the performance was fairly crowded (at least 7 people deep) and kids kept creeping further and further inside the circled off area as the show went on.

Waiting for the Circus to Begin

4 guys did all kinds of different acrobatics to different African themed music.  They jumped through hoops, balanced on each other and unbalanced chairs as well as each other. These guys would make awesome wedding shtick.  The show was an hour and we had a great time.

Rabbi Slifkin "Zoo Rabbi" opened up his new museum for tours yesterday. There are still a few exhibits that have not been completed but it did not take away from the tour (except of the fact I would have loved to see the Hyrax which is one of the delayed exhibits).

The tour started with Rabbi Slifkin explaining the purpose of the museum and how he defines what type of animals fall under the scope of the museum.  He then showed a 10 minute video about lions and how they are treated in Tenach. 

When the video ended the curtain was pulled back to reveal the rest of the museum. Rabbi Slifkin then lead the tour through the musuem. There was a mix animals (live and stuffed), other artifacts that you would expect to see in a museum including eggs, animal horns and bones. He brought in a live python for the day to enhance the tour. It was cool as it was the first time I had ever touched a snake. Peri was having a great time with all of the live animals including (turtles, mina birds, gekkos, salamander, rats and albino hedgehog)

He covered the topic of animal names in Tanach including how and why they have changed. For example a 'Tzvi' is usually translated as a deer. It makes more sense if it refferred to a gazelle. He also covered different aspects of kosher animals.


There was also an extensive section on shofars. I didn't know it wasn't possible to make a shofar from a non-kosher animal because they are not hollow. The narwhal horn was also a nice touch.

Overall we enjoyed the museum with only 2 criticisms. The hour long tour cost 110 NIS for the 3 of us. It is a lot of money for only an hour. The Israel Museum would have only cost us 125 NIS.  The Biblical Zoo would have cost us 140 NIS for the day. We wanted to stay longer when the tour was over to look around. We didn't have the opportunity because a new group was coming in and we were hurried out.  Channah also noticed that at points it felt like the tour was being rushed because they were worried about time.

Overall the museum was a nice way to spend an hour, but was on the pricey side in terms of value for your money.  Based on the what was advertised this was the discounted price until the museum is fully functional.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Turning Back the Clock

Last Monday marked the end of summer as Channah returned to school. Wednesday was another marker that we have moved out of the summer season as I returned to the hockey rink. A hand injury is limiting me to that one game until after the chagim. It is a good time to reflect on what had been a very busy summer.

The war in Gaza did dominate our lives to some degree.  A dozen scrambles to the Mamad (sealed room) and the sound of jet planes, helicopters and occasionally being able to hear artillery fire in the distance made the war much more real then just following the news. With some adjustments day to day life continued mostly as normal. It was disappointing that the war did cancel our trip to the beach in Ashdod that I had been looking forward to at the beginning of summer.

For the first time Channah was in camp for the whole summer.  The first 3 weeks she went to camp in the Rama. She walked there every morning and we picked her up in the afternoon. She really came out of her shell in interacting with other kids. She also fell in love with gymnastics which is going to be her chug for the year. When the 3 weeks were up she went to another camp a little bit farther away. Channah discovered she had natural talent in archery, learned to play baseball and was exposed to Tae Kwon Doe. There were regular reports from the staff about what a great camper she was. We also continued our regular home work routine through the summer. The combination has really paid off as Channah has been absolutely thriving in her first week and a half of school.

The summer was not quite as happy a time for our car Snowflake. The air conditioner finally kicked out and wasn't worth fixing.  Despite the relatively cool summer (most of the summer was in the mid 30s instead of low 40s), we decided that Snowflake could no longer take the heat. We purchased Zoom Zoom which was a slightly newer car that could handle the heat. It was a real upgrade for us. Aside from a working air conditioner it also came with a bigger trunk, working stereo, remote key entry and sensors when you are backing up. I went from trying to avoid driving whenever possible to enjoying driving.

Zoom Zoom

Our original plan for the summer was to find a new place to live. After a lot of searching we finally accepted that it was not economically feasible with skyrocketing rent in the neighbourhood. Instead we met with the owner of the apartment to negotiate a long term lease and some improvements to the apartment. Fixing up the apartment became the project of the summer.  Plumbing and electrical was fixed and our bedroom no longer has carpet. We painted the entire apartment. Changes have been made with rearranging or replacing some of the existing furniture.  It was a huge step for Peri and I to set up our new home together. We celebrated by having a Chanukat HaBayit at the end of the summer. Our apartment was filled with people who are extremely important in my life. Even my Rosh Yeshiva attended.

Earlier this year I started to have a tough time battling PTSD and depression. Having the safety and security of a stable home environment left me face to face with deep painful memories and fears. Through therapy and medication, I have come leaps and bounds in this battle. For the first time in a very long time I have been able to allow my self to have wants, hopes and dreams. More and more I am uncovering who I am and who I want to be. It is tremendously refreshing to once again see life as full of potential instead of just struggling with whatever is sent my way. 

Rachel and I were once on our way to wedding. One of the people in the car was talking about the recent birth of a child. They had thought they had been done having children and that their timeline for when certain life events that happen as children grow up had been set. Instead they had turned back the clock by a number of years, as they will not hit those milestones until their youngest child grew up.  We didn't know it at the time but Rachel was already pregnant with Gabi during the conversation.

This summer has been all about turning back the clock. I have an opportunity to start again and build a life for myself that I thought had been lost forever.  This summer was a glimpse at what potential my life has. It is refreshing to have so much to look forward to.