Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happines Quotient

I remember reading an article ones about people's "happiness quotient".

(all the good things in your life) - (all the bad things and worries in your life) = your happiness quotient (HQ)

Last year my HQ was in negative numbers. There was so little in my life to be happy about. This year the fear and worry does not make a dent in

(+1) A year ago now I had just come back from the cruise.

(-1) I had a husband with a huge cut on his head from falling on ice that my landlord would not deal with.

(-1) My landlord was threatening to evict us if we complained to the tenant protection committee.

(-1) I was living in a tiny, cluttered apartment with no room to turn around.

(-1) I had "started a business" that no one took seriously.

(-1) I was working out of my living room makeing the place even more cluttered and claustrophobic than it had been before.

(-1) We never knew how we were going to pay our bills. Our debt load was so high it was crushing our spirit. We had to think twice before buying a loaf of bread- never mind any non-luxuries.

(-1) My creativity had fled. I could not create, I could not write. I could barely speak

(-1) My daughter was in school with kids who could not come over to play because there parents were worried there was no real room for them. She was NEVER invited on playdates or to birthday parties. Even at the park we felt apart from other families.

(-1) I felt out of place at shul.

(-1)I had been pushed out of a forum that I had started, and was getting nasty emails from some of the "admin" and members on how terrible I was which sent me hurling back into a depression that almost landed me in hospital.

(+1) thank god for good drugs and a wonderful therapist.

(-1) I was dealing with being on the receiving end of an internet sale gone bad and arguing with paypal to get my money back. When I did I started getting hate mail from the "seller" and had my ebay and etsy accounts hacked to the tune of a few hundred dollars so she could "teach me a lesson".

(-1) I had just found out that one of my husbands rabbeim from yeshiva, a man I truly respected and liked, had emergency surgery to remove a brain tumor.

(-1) I had also just found out my grandfather, with whom I had not spoken in years, had pancreatic Cancer. I was at a total loss as to how to react. I jsut felt numb.

(-1) I was sick as a dog with a virus that was giving me a fever and making my joints ache.

(-1) I was in hiding from most of my family. Heck, I was hiding from most of my friends too.

(-1) I felt alone in the world and like I was not worthy for love attention or to leave the house. I was not being a good parent to Channah, a good wife to Jason, or a good person for myself.

(-1) My husband was miserable at work. He was stuck in a go-nowhere job being yelled at regularly over things not in hus control

2008 HQ = (-15)

Contrast that to a year later.

(+1) My relationships with my family are better than they have been in a long, long while.

(+1) I have had the closure I needed in my relationship with my grandfather. He is no longer here but before he passed away I was able to make peace with the relationship such as it was.

(+1) I am living my dream and living in a wonderfui apartment in Israel.

(+1) I have a space for a proper studio and business is growing nicely.

(+1) I feel like I can be me again. I can and do create. I can and do write. I can and do speak. I make friends. I say Hi to stangers.

(+1) We are still on a tight budget. We will likely never be the sort of people to jet off on expensive vacations or buy furs and diamonds (for ourselves)- but we live much more simply here- and that has its own benefits. We walk a lot and take public transit- or rent a car if we need it. B'H we have managed to dig our way out so that we can hold our heads up without collpasing under the weight of our worries. We have even started planning for tomorrow- something we could never do while we were still trying to deal with yesterday.

(+1) Channah is loving school and making friends. We have playdates generally at least once a week, and spend lots of time shmoozing with other families at the park.

(+1) We are able to do things here we could never consider before. Channah is taking ballet, and we take family day trips to fun places. Jason and I are going to be taking our first real vacation alone (as in longer than 18 hours) since before I was pregnant with Channah.

(+1) I enjoy going to shul and am making friends there.

(+1) I no longer participate in most internet forums, and those I do participate in are just on the sidelines. I have a new stance on internet drama and for the most part I have relearned that people online can not substitute for real humans. They also can not hurt me unless I let them.

(+1) I am happy. I am healthy. I am out and about day in and day out.

(+1) Jason is happy in ulpan. Job prospects, although not great, look good.

(-1) I am also afriad. I have never been this close to a military action. I can hear the planes flying over my home at night, and I know that we are not so far off from being in the line of fire. Hashem yishmor.

(-1) I miss family and friends from Toronto.

(+1) I feel like I am a part of my community. A part of my life and not an outsider.

2009 HQ = (+11)

I am happier here than I ever remember being. We are living how we want to, where we want to. Things may nto be perfect, but looking back over the last year I can not fathom how far things have come. I barely recognize myself as the same person I was then.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A better map

If you are interested in a better and more interactive map of the current events, we have one posted at Google Maps.

Current Events in the Middle East

View Larger Map

Reality of War

In Toronto there is tons of gang violence. I generally assumed that since I did not hang out in those areas late at night into the wee hours of the morning. I would be safe. Occasionally innocent by-standers would be hit but they were on very rare occasions. In Israel there are security check points, security guards and soldiers all over the place. People walk around with guns on their hip or stuffed down the back of their pants. I feel safer here than in Toronto.

I must admit that the war in Gaza is hitting home a lot harder than I could ever have imagined. We have put our names down to accept refugees looking to flee to safer ground. I cannot blame anyone for wanting to get away from such a horrible situation and we are more than happy to help any way we can.

We are out of missle range from Gaza. However the missiles keep landing closer and closer to places not that far away from us. Kiryat Gat was hit over the weekend. It is along Highway 6 (our 407) not that far South/West of us. To get to hockey I take the 6 North eventually ending up 500m from the Lebanese border. If Hizzbullah decides to stick there nose into this, the tournament in 3 weeks going to be cancelled. While we are still in the safe zone it is still too close to home.

I am more worried about the reaction on the street. I know the security fence is going to deter suicide bombers to a large degree. An Arab technician attacked 4 people in Kiryat Sefer (Modiin Illit) today before being shot by a paramedic. The paramedic then took him to the hospital. We have friends living in Kiryat Sefer. It is about 30 minutes North of us. Tonight there was stone throwing on highway 443. The highway goes from Modiin to Jerusalem traveling past Ramallah. It is the route I took to Jerusalem a few weeks ago after visiting the mall in Modiin.

Channah can sense the tension. We live near a top secert Air Force base. We hear the helicopters and jets as they head south. As it is the topic of conversation all around we have to do some explaining. She was telling everyone who called today that the helicopters are shooting at the bad guys to keep us safe. People around as are worried as friends and family have received or will probably be receiving their army call up papers.

I hope this war ends successfully and soon.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A little more than a little nervous...

At this point we are well out of range and there is nothing to worry about. Beit Shemesh, and by extension Ramat Beit Shemesh is one of the location people would be evacuated TO in case of an emergency. There is not even a thought at this time of installing early warning systems or other emergency equipment where we are located.

Ok. That being said.

I know I should not be nervous as we are nowhere near the centre of the goings-on. I know there are loads of people who have way more reason to be frightened than I do. I know that this was something we had to think about before we made our decision to move and that no one forced us to come here. I know all that.

I am scared anyway.

Iran has declared that the whole of Israel is an acceptable target. Theoretically the whole country is in range of something that can blow it up/make the air unbreathable/corrode anything under the sun.

I heard the planes today and they scared me. I don't care if it is being called a military operation, a war or a carnival. A am ashamed to admit that a piece of me just wants to run home to "snowmageddon" back in Toronto.

It is not that I do not think this is the right thing to be doing. On the contrary, I am glad the government has finally stepped up and chosen to do something about the constant barrage on its citizens. I saw the perfect description on a bloggers site where he wrote "there has been a war for a while. Just now we finally joined it".

I think I am more worried about the outside attacks though than the actual rockets. The stabbing in Kiryat Sefer by a "disgruntled" Aravi worker. The call for suicide bombers to come back into action. I know I am lucky enough to be in a "safe" section of the country. It is not one of those places open for debate- but those in Gaza would have me and my home wiped in to the sea as they would have those is Sederot and before that those in Dimona. When do I need to start eyeying every passenger on the Beit Shemesh bus when I get on to make sure those are "our" Burka babes and not "theirs". At what point might I decide that leaving my home, my room and my bed or letting Channah out of the sealed room is not worth it anymore.

Where does it end?

What could we ever give them that would satisfy them? 3 years ago the government chose to give them the entirety of Aza- it was left "yudenreine". And now? Do we have peace? No, we have pieces. Pieces of homes and lives lost to their rockets. And were we to give them Sederot- give them what they are claiming to want- what then? Do you really, for one minute, think that will satisfy them? That it will satiate their desire for Jewish blood?

We can not fool ourselves into thinking that this is all politically motivated. If so why are they not bombing Jordan? Wasn't that also a part of the original "Palestinian State".

Sorry, I am ranting.

For clarification sake.

Red is Gaza
Green is places they have hit
Yellow is large cities that have not been hit (although no one knows why they have not hit BerSheva (the bottom yellow square). I added in Sderot in black since many people have heard of it and will be able to use it as a reference.
Blue is us. Outside the range of the green squares.

Gaza -> Ashdod 38km
Gaza -> Jerusalem 78km
Gaza -> Tel Aviv 71 km
Gaza -> Rechovot (just above the top green square which is Yavne) 53km
Gaza -> BerSheva 42 km

Again. At this point we are well out of range and there is nothing to worry about. Beit Shemesh, and by extension Ramat Beit Shemesh is one of the location people would be evacuated TO in case of an emergency. There is not even a thought at this time of installing early warning systems or other emergency equipment where we are located.

Heading North- Caesarea

Yesterday was our "big" chanukah tiyul. We packed up lunches, snacks, raincoats, sweaters, cds, maps, and cameras and went north to Caesarea.

Before leaving Bet Shemesh we went ot get our new bus cards. A bit of a pain, but on the whole pretty easy and fast. From there we all buckled in, put some uncle Moishe on the stereo, and headed North.

It was worth every single agurah of renting the car. The weather was perfect, the scenery was stunning, and the day a lot of fun. There were thigns there that interested all of us. The Audio visual presentation on the history of Caesarea was wonderfully well done. Modern and interactive and well laid out (although I wish there had been a little more time in some of the sections).

I did nto get any pictures of the actual roman theatre becuase we got there as the gates were closing.

I HIGHLY recommend it as a great touristy tihng to do while you are here. You get all the history of Masada with the scenery of of the Golan and the beach from Netanya.

The entrance to Caesarea National Park

Inside the ruins from above. It is a crusader era vaulted celing with an arrow protection window.

A "crusador era" movie theatre :)

Channah and I at the ruins of what was once a shrine to the god Mithros (god of the conquered sun). I just thought they would make a great backgdrop for a picture with me actually in it! (And it was a great place to stop to retie my sneaker!)

overlooking the water.
This sculpture of horses and a chariot stand at what used to be the charioters entrance into the hippodrome. Channah got to play charioteer!

The portico where the king would have sat to watch the game. This is near the oppotiste end of the hippodrome where the "finish line" would have been. Racers made 6 full turns around the track before making a final half turn to cross the finish line

Channah walking along what used to be the middle line around which the races took place.

The full length of the hippodrome. you can not even see the horse sculpture at the far end. Later in it's life this was used as a forum for gladiatorial fighting and games with wild beasts.

sitting on the "benches"

This is at the ruins of the seaside castle. channah took the picture :)

Some random passing stranger took this one for us. That is what remains of the Caesarea break water behind us.

Channah was a rather large pillar.

The water was amazingly clear. All you saw were the rocks at the bottom. I have no idea how deep it was, but it only looked a few inches deep if that. Remember, this is a deep water harbour!

Funny, you would think with water so clear this guy would have been able to see that there were no fish! He had been there the whole day, not a thing to show for it. I guess he is one of those "fishing for the sport of it" sort of guys.

Channah took this one too.

shops in the "artist colony". build on the remains of where shops would have stood durring the High days of Caesarea. It is also called the "cat's quarter" They were everywhere.

When Jason went off into the corner to daven mincha he collected almost a minyan's worth of cats just sitting and staring at him.
We happened onto an archery demonstartions as we were getting ready to leave.

Out little tiyuler.

Museum of Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv)

We had planned to go to the Diaspora museum, but after talking to my mom (who we found out had never been there) we decided to wait and save it for during her visit next month. We went looking online for something else that looked fun, and came across the website for the Eretz yisroel Museum in Tel Aviv.

It looked pretty cool and said it had a lot of participation stuff for kids so we stuck it into the plans. They were not wrong. There was a lot of stuff for kids to do- in the summer. Most of the stuff that brought us to the museum was not running (and this little piece of information was not mentioned anywhere on their website). Also not mentioned was the fact that nothing is connected so it is not a great rainy day activity.

We also discovered that if you keep kosher there is nowhere to have lunch on a rainy day. I am not complaining about the lack of acceptable resaraunt. I can deal with that. There was not even a covered bench anywhere on the grounds dry enough to sit on. when we tried to sit on a bench in the front entrance (where kids were playing ball, screaming, etc- nowhere near any sort of exhibit which were all in other buildings) we were told that it was not allowed. We ended up giving Channah lunch standing outside in the rain.

Yum. soggy rice cake.

All that aside, I am sure the museum is wonderful in the summer. They have a lot of interesting things including a working olive oil press and flour mill. They have a planetarium (we did nto bother as the show was only in Hebrew and Channah is not ready for that yet. Maybe next time). Their actual exhibits were good. They had one on coinage that facinated my post-numismatic (old coin collector) husband. They had a whole exhibit on copper that included a reconstruction of a forge and copper ore cave. We skipped the ceramic/pottery and glass pavillions because Channah was getting tired.

My favourite was an exhibit on Folklore and tradition and Jewish life around the world. It was by far the biggest of the collections. they had pieces and costumes from around the world. The most fascinating part of the exhibit was the reconstruction of a beit kanesset from Istaly that was restored and then brought to Israel and rebuild in a structure created just for it. You could actually go right in and look around.

The Chamtzah below was about 15cm across and was clearly (to any adult) designed as a wall hanging. Channah looks at it and says "Hey look! A big keychain!" Out of the mouths of babes eh? I guess that is a heck of a good way to not lose your keys *shrug*.

Channah with a huge jar that would likely have been used to hold olive oil.

Jason and Channah with the manual olive oil press.

Channah with a massive "water fountain"

The Aron from the shul reconstruction

Stain glass windows i nthe reconstruction

view fro mthe "ezrat nashim."

Beat out that rhythm on a drum...

I shall save you from the sound that accompanied 100 children with drums, but I will share the pictures. The guy was incredible. He worked with the kids to "make it rain" using their bodies and tapping on things. All the kids liked it, and it did not matter what language they spoke because he used only body language to get his instructions across.

A few more pictures from latrun and park Canada

For more information on Latrun, it's history and importance to the Jewish state, as well as more ifnormation about the museum and memorial site please visit Wiki here.

The police station at Latrun (now the museum and auditorium)

close up of bullet marks on the tower.

Close up of rocket destruction.

Open square area, facing the tanks with your back to the wall.

Tribute sculpture inside.

Memorial wall of names. Divided by war. In the background is the tank on the tower.

Park Canada water chanel. Ancient location, modern rebuilding.

open pit along the side of the water chanel. I have no idea what it is for but it looked cool.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A little nervous...

I know I am overreacting by even being a little nervous. Nothing ever happens in Beit shemesh. We are well out of range of anything going on in and around Gaza.

Being worried for those involved is one thing. I am. When I heard the IAF went in to Gaza this morning I felt my heart leap into my throat. It is so funny how attached you can feel to a place you have never been and to people you have never met.

We added our information to a list of families willing to take evacuees if need be. At least here I can do that much.

The World's Biggest Minyan Factory

We spent Shabbos in the Germany Colony in order to spend time with visiting family. It was a really great Shabbos. It also meant spending lots of time at the world's biggest and most famous minyan factory -- the Kotel.

On Friday there were 5 of us heading to the kotel. Shortly before candle lighting we grabbed two cabs and headed for the Kotel. We had to guess how much the taxi would cost and the left overs were going to the Kotel maintenance fund. One cab cost 29 NIS and the other cost 30 NIS.

Going to the kotel is always a different experience. Different times of day draw different types of crowds and there is often some kind of special occassion. Of course there are also the large groups of tourists in bright orange hats, who probably think the whole thing is crazy. It was my first time going on a Friday night in 12 years.

The Kotel was packed. There was a long line up at security. We then went off to find a minyan. We couldn't seem to find one that was just starting and ended up joining on to one after they started Shmonei Esrei. There was a group in the middle towards the right that was singing in dancing from before the time we arrived until they were ready to start Kabbalat Shabbat. The leader of our group had choosen two tables towards the mechiza where he wanted to daven. The attmosphere was incredible. It was really hard to hear our group except for the parts we were singing out loud. It was a great experience but not my favourite type of davening.

I have always taken the route through the shuk to get to Yaffo gate. They wanted to avoid the shuk and took a different route out, through the Armenian quarter. I saw my first two Christmas trees of the year. After exiting the old city it was a short walk to the hotel where we were meeting up with more family for dinner.

This morning we had a couple of davening options. We could daven at the 8:15 minyan our host was going to or the kotel. Our group really wanted to go to the Rabbi Machlis minyan at the Kotel. The other guests for lunch woudl be davening there. It scheduled to start at 9:30. I have gotten used to Israeli style minayim that start at 8:00 and lunch is on the table by 11:00/11:30. With such a late minyan there was no way that would happen. As we were getting ready to go our hosts reminded us that they normally eat at 11:30. I was willing to go along with whatever the group decided.

We walked to the old city and entered through Zion Gate. The entrance is a sharp 90 degree turn. Our leader explained how difficult it was to navigate the tanks through this gate in 1967. As we passed through a little Toyota drove passed us on it's way out through the gate. -THUNK-. The car managed to drive into the wall. It wasn't even going fast. I guess he has no experience driving a tank or an Egged bus.

As we followed the road down to the Kotel a car had run into the closed street leading up to the Kotel in front of the parking lot. He was busy trying to manuever a tight U turn in a large car. A little Breslov kid was watching and yelling 'Shabbos' at the car. One of the two older brothers with him were telling him to stop screaming.

Security was fairly light. They just asked where we came from and if we were carrying a knife. I don't think the metal detectors were even on. It was 9:20 and there was no sign of the minyan. As we were waiting our leader and the other guest hatched out a plan (if neccesary) to join another minyan for Mussaf. Rav Machlis arrived at 9:45 and davening started right away. It was a nice davening (in the slow sense of the word). We kept moving around locations before moving to his favourite spot next to the Kotel. Before Hallel he pointed out that Chanukah is the only holiday that commemorates events that took place in Israel. The redidication of the Bet Hamikdash. We were standing a few feet from the outter wall. It was impossible not to be inspired as we sang all of Hallel.

Hallel finished at 11:20. Every other Minyan at the Kotel was either long gone or had already started Mussaf. It was 11:30 when we got to Shilishi and the decision to not to be a burden on our hosts was made. We formed our own break away minyan and went straight to Mussaf. We even had a Kohen, as not to miss out on duchanening. We managed to be done by 11:45. We made it back to our hosts at an almost reasonable hour. They had a prolonged kiddush while they waited for us.

During the morning there were a lot of jets flying south over Jerusalem. I thought this meant something had to be going on in Gaza. I was surprised because going into Shabbos the reports were the IDF was going to wait for some good weather before launching an attack. We had no idea how effective the attacks were going to be. I also saw a policeman in full riot gear stop at the Kotel for a few minutes. Overall we had a really nice Shabbos.

Shul chanuka Party

Wednesdaywe had sort of a quiet day. Channah and I were both sick so we spent most of the day drinking tea in warm, fleecy pajamas. Later afternoon we got dressed and lit candles and went off to the shul Chanahk Party. It was cute. They had an arts and craft for the kids. There was a funrasier selling Afrikan art. some of it was nice. Not my style, but nice. Some was- well, um... lets go with not as nice. Kind of creepy truthfully. Gave Channah a nightmare. we did not stay for the speach on Afrikan art.

There was nothing really to take a picture of, but I never really get to take pictures in the shul, so I took one to post here. What you are looking at is the main (and really only) room. It will, eventually, maybe, be the social hall, but for now it is the sanctuary/socialhall/classroom/kiddush room/boardroom. The Aron is behind the screen there at the front. Those two guys are playing decent jazz.

This is a picture with friends of ours who lived down the street in Toronto and now live down the street here. They daven at the same shul, have kids roughly the same age, and are lots of fun to be with. This has worked out rather well (for us. We have not really asked them what they think. I suspect we just do not want to know the answer!)

A Tiyuling we will go... (or the great Tiyul M*A*S*H*up

On Tuesday we hooked up with the local Nefesh B'Nefesh representatives and a small group of recent olim and went out on a Chanukah tiyul. We thought it was going to be a fairly light day. Something about a park. Yeah. I really need to learn to actually read fliers before deciding ot sign up for things.

In this case it worked out great. In future I might not get off so well!

We got on the bus and were taken to park Canada. I have no idea why there are so many tihngs in this country named after Canada, but I am not going to complain. Frankly, I rather missed getting to see the trees change colour, and the park actually had maple trees! No really nice red ones, but we did get some nice shades of brown and yellow.

And now ladies and gentlement, the park (brought to you by every single tzedakah box you have had since kindergarden.

This also brings us to the first of our many M*A*S*H* references for the day. The sign post. Jason and I were way beyond amused that there was a sign post with a sign for "Canada that-a-way" (The white one at the bottom says Canada. Click on the picture to enlarge it if you don't believe me.)

And obviously we need a gratuitous picture of our little explorer. The pink sparkly shoulder bag with a huge sparkley hello kitty on it was a Chanuka gift because she wanted a tik like mine that she could wear over her shoulder.

This was the tourguide for the day, Josh Evenchen (Goldstein). He was incredible with the kids. Seriously, if you are ever planning a nature hike with kids he is fantastic. We was able ot bring in all sorts of Tanach references to make it "real" (ie, that is the ayalon valley where Yehoshua told the sun to stand still. This is the area where the Chashmonaim would have hidden from the Yivanim... maybe even in one of the caves we just passed!"). He also got the kids to act out parts of the chanuka story that "could have happened right here" with props and everything. Honestly, he was fantastic. Lets hear it for Josh! Yechi! Hedad! Ok, enough of that.

History in this country is not so much something you study as something you trip over. the kids were going mad collecting bits of ancient pottery that were lying all over the ground in the park waiting to be found. Here is a picture of Channah with the first piece she found. Thank goodness for the new tik or I would have ended up shlepping home about 100 pounds of the stuff. Ok, so I might be exagerating a little- it was really on maybe 15 pieces, but even so. She collected to send to people to show them. Don't be surprised if you get a random pottery shard in the mail from us.

Once we finished the hike (about an hour and a half or two hours. It was a good walk with some more difficult rockey areas that made it fun and a bit of a challenge for shorty) we had lunch then got back on the bus for the 3 minute drive to the tank museum in Latrun. We got to see inside a tank (it is actually really cool. They have a tank sliced in half so you can see the inside, and dummies of the solders who would be in the there.) Along with the tourguide from the museum (a soldierette who somehow managed to get the job of tourguide rather than active duty) , our tourguide Josh was full of interesting information as he did his service and now his milluim in a tank.

Along with the memorial for the armoured core and a movie, there are also tanks. The museum has on display every tank Israel ever used or fought against. And you can climb on them. As usual I played photographer.

Here comes the real M*A*S*H references. The big tank below. The one that ISrael used for years and years and years. Orriginally used by the Americans in various wars. The General Sherman.

Can you not just see Klinger coming round in an evening gown and perls in this ve-Hickle?

And I am sure I saw Father Malkayhey driving this one around stuffed with orphans who needed a place for Christmas.

Once we were done there the sun was setting on our day with Nefesh B'Nefesh- but what a sun it was! This picture was not doctored. The sun, in thel ate afternoon, really was that bright white.

Oh, and did I forget ot mention that we did the tiyul in long sleeve shirts? Would you believe this is winter?