Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Our Life is Strawberries

From Rosh Chodesh Elul until the HaShannah Rabbah marks a 50 day period of self improvement. When the gates of judgment are finally closed, we could just pack things up and go back to the way things were. God adds one more day to celebrate and savour what we have become before we return to our regular lives. It is the only holiday with no specific mitzvot. Chazal decided to fill that void by creating Simchat Torah.

This year this time period has been a time of transition for the whole family as are feeling more and more at home in our new community.

There were a number of highlights during the chag:

Dancing with my father during his Hakafa while holding Shlomo's hand.
When I had my HaKafa Shlomo came running over to help me hold the sefer Torah.
I had the cross over hagbah. It was a lot easier than it looks.

Being in a very Israeli (re: Hebrew Speaking) shul and they still sang the english verse to Matza Chein

In Israel they often do what are called Hakafot Shniot. The basic idea is that Jews in chul are celebrating Simchat Torah a day later we can also celebrate that night. It usually involves some sort of dancing with Sifrei Torah and live music. We went once or twice in RBS before it was cancelled.

This year we choose between the 3 most publicized options. Two of them were at nearby shuls and the third was at the AmpiPark. Pircehi Yerushalim was the main attraction at the AmpiPark which run out. My parents came with Channah and myself.

I would say the ampitheatre holds somewhere between 2000 and 2500 people. I would say that there were about 1000 people there. We enjoyed the concert and I really enjoyed spending time with Channah. She had some great witty insights into the evening, as well as showing off how incorporated she is to Israeli culture.  One song 'Hello' (by Adele) was introduced as as a way to keep the teenagers from leaving. Channah asked me what it had to do with Simchat Torah.

A couple of songs later they announced here come the Sefrei Torah. About two or three sifrei Torah were brought to the front of the seating. A lot of people left their seats to go dance. Pirchei kept singing with some Bresolevers joining in my playing giant shofars. When the medley was finished Prichei was done for the night and the Breslevors took over the entertainment for the evening.

I have written many times about how Simchat Torah can be a time of joy, reflection and sadness all mixed into one.  This year, I just enjoyed being able to be me.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Shul Search

When I made Aliyah, finding a shul ended up being a fairly easy process. We were easily able to identify the Anglo shuls. We decided to try out one of the shuls that one of our new sets of friends davened at. I went there Friday night. I davened somewhere else Shabbat morning returning for Mincha. At Mincha the Rabbi asked if my family was OK. He had seen me at shul the night before and didn't see me in the morning. At that moment I was sold. He has been my Rabbi for 8 years and the shul had been a very important part of my life.

With the move to Kiryat Shmuel, we had no illusions of a repeat performance. There are not any Anglo shuls. I hadn't realized that there weren't any nusach Ashkenaz shuls in the area.

After eliminating the Old Age Home, Temani Shul, Moroccan Shul and a whole bunch of other sephardi shuls and possible shuls we don't know about we narrowed our search down to 6. There was the large Central Shul, the Romanian Shul (which is attached to a Sephardi shul), a small shul that only operates on Shabbat and Chaggim, a Yekki minyan and 2 shuls on the other side of the train tracks in Kiryat Motzkin.

The goal was to find a shul that was family friendly where all of us could be comfortable.  We tried to not let first impressions be the deciding factor although there were cases it made a difference. Level of friendliness was more or less the same. Some shuls had names on every seat making it very intimidating worrying about not taking someones seat. One shul I tried out a few times, the first time I got there someone did tell me to get out of their seat. The seats had keys for people to store their stuff. There were almost no seats without locks on them. Some places were just not big enough for the amount of people who davened there.  I found myself using the comfiness of the seats and number of air conditioner units as important factors in deciding shuls. There was one minyan where I couldn't figure out what time they started Shabbat morning. At the end of davening they made only one very short announcement: (מנחה ןמעריב כרגיל) Mincha and Maariv are at the regular times. That lead to a very quick thumbs down.

There were two shuls left accross the Kiryat Motzkin side of the train station. One was described as a shtiebel so we haven't tried it yet.  The other was a completely different experience. The first time I went there was on Friday night. The davening wasn't anything special but it had comfortable seats (the kind they use in simcha halls) and 6 air conditioning units. It pulled into the lead based on the merits that another shul we were considering did not have room for Yom Tov seats.

I decided to give it one more try just to make sure that it was the right decision. On Friday night they were giving out calendars to all the members plus a piece of paper with the davening times for the upcoming year. One of the people giving out the pieces of paper asked me if I lived in the area and thereby earning the opportunity to take one. I was happy because it had a phone number on it. I was also happy to learn that daveing starts at 8:30 on Shabbat instead of 7:45 which is what the plaque on the front of the building says.

On Shabbat morning somebody said hello to me in shul. We had a conversation about my background. I came home really excited feeling warm and welcomed. It was the first time anyone had really noticed me in shul since the move.

We tried to call the number on schedule to arrange Yom Tov tickets. The number was out of service. We found another phone number listed for the shul. It kept ringing to a fax machine. I was starting to get a little bit nervous.

This past Shabbat, Peri came with me to shul. We wanted to make sure Peri liked the shul and figure out how to get Yom Tov tickets. We received the warmest welcome. Although apparently a bunch of regular had gone to the other shul because of an Of Ruf and they wanted to make sure there was enough room for the people attending the simcha. It is very kids friendly and also one of the shuls where you will see strollers in the men's section.

I asked someone how to arrange to daven there on Yom Tov. He told me 'You come in and sit down, right here.'  He also introduced me to the shul President. Peri received a similar answer. Apparently the shul doesn't charge for seats or have any reserved seats. Their fear is that someone might not come to shul because they can't afford it and would be too embarrassed to ask. She asked about becoming a member and was told that we shouldn't do that when we are new to the area. Nobody would tell us how membership works. They also told us that if we don't bring Channah and Shlomo to shul this Shabbat they will come to our apartment and drag everyone to shul. It is nice to feel wanted.

The shul is a 450 m walk from our house or 1 km drive assuming you can find parking. We are all very excited that we found a place where we can be comfortable.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Local Library

With Channah being an avid reader and the budget not being able to drop 80 NIS on a book that she will finishing reading within a day or two the library has become an important part of Channah's life. Setting up Channah with library access was a high priority after the move.

The Kiryat Shmuel Library

The library system is very different than it was in Ramat Beit Shemesh. In RBS we paid an annual membership that allow Channah to take out 5 books at a time. With political changes in the Matnas housing this year, the library had cut down the days open to 3 days a week and significantly cut down the size. Channah would regularly have books on hold for months. Often she would find the books she was waiting for sitting on the book shelf.

The Kiryat Shmuel Library is located in it's own independent building.  The time we went there to set everything up for Channah they had 3 staff members working. They are open one morning and three afternoon/evenings a week. There are no membership fees for local residents.

The library only allows each member to take out one book at a time. After an unspecified probationary period the amount of books increases to two. The standard work around is each family member takes our a library card. We did the same, allowing Channah to have 3 library cards every time she goes to the library.  Our library membership also allows us access to some sort of online resources through the Haifa Library network.

As the library users are made up of 70% kids, the only books that can be reserved are adult books on adult library cards.  There is a 2 NIS fee for requesting a hold on a book and you have only 24 hours to pick up the book when it becomes available. Books can only be returned during library hours. A list of all of the books currently in the library is available online. This can streamline the book selection process without having to leave home. We asked if our library cards would allow us access to the other libraries in Haifa. They said no but it wasn't clear if they couldn't be used in other Haifa libraries or if they were just offended by the concept of using other libraries.

Between the local library and the school, we hope that the two libraries can maintain Channah's appetite for reading. If not there are two other bigger libraries (Kiryat Yam, Kiryat Motzkin) that are much bigger but not considered local because they cross municipal boundaries. We will look into the cost of membership should the need arise.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Fresh Beginnings

For almost 8 years, Ramat Beit Shemesh has been my home. In that time the city has grown and changed a lot. Often for the better and sometimes, not so much. As much as I have enjoyed living here, it has been clear that our family needs a fresh start. 

For over a year, Peri and I have been actively searching for the best place for our family.  Our first choice was a community with a very limited rental market. That left us open to also considering some of the surrounding neighbourhoods.  We had a back up plan in case we could not find suitable home. 

For the past month we have been making multiple trips checking out apartments. A lot of the apartments were too small, re-emphasizing how lucky we are to be in a large apartment, even by the standards of this neighbourhood. 

One apartment I have started referring to as the Mafia building. The apartment was gorgeous. The 18 page lease was filled with clauses keeping the owner in full control of the apartment even though it was being rented. We negotiated most of them out of the lease. The clause that we should pay the structural insurance on the entire building as the deal breaker. We didn't even go as far as him wanting to have the insurance (including content insurance) to be with his insurance company with his name on the policy.  We decided not to enter a lease with an over-controlling, abusive owner.

Another one was a nice sized apartment that was not finished being built. It didn't have a bathtub or electricity. They hadn't applied for the Tofes 4 (building completion certificate) and it wasn't certain the electricity could be turned on before the move in date. The owners want to sell and were looking at renting as a possibility to eventually initiate a sale. The biggest selling point was the illegally built and walled in 120m of living space that could be opened up, upon purchase. In the end, there were too many variables in the air and it also fell through.

Yesterday, morning we signed a lease for our apartment in Kiryat Shumel. It is located in the flat part of Haifa, north of the city. The building is only 3 years old. One of the things that really impressed us, was how well thought out the apartment and the building was. It is going to be a great place for our family to get a fresh start. 

The keys to our future, without shlissel challah.

Every time I have been to Kiryat Shmuel I have fallen more and more in love with the community. I do have some fears about leaving the comforts of a community that has been really supportive over the years and ongoing. We need to be able to step outside of our comfort zones, if we want to grow and become better people. This move gives every single member of my family the best opportunity to grow and be the best that they can be. A fresh start is really exciting.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Reaching a huge milestone, Channah's Bat Mitzvah

As the sun set this evening, Channah reached the age of Bat Mitzvah. She automatically took a step forward in her life where she halachically takes responsibility for her own actions.  We went out for dinner as a family to celebrate the occasion.

 I keep thinking back to the night Channah was born. 5 weeks earlier Rachel's water broke. Channah blocked the hole with her head, allowing the pregnancy to continue in the safety of the womb. My Mom had come to join us for Friday night dinner in the hospital room. We sent her home earlier than we expected when fetal distress started to set in. Channah was born 12:45 am weighing a whopping 1320 grams. I didn't meet her for hours after she was born as she was quickly whisked away to receive medical attention. At 3:00 am I was kicked out of the hospital in order to let Rachel get some rest. I went bouncing down the street back to the apartment I was staying at. As there was no one else around, I excitedly shared the news with the security guard for the building. In the morning, I shared the exciting news with the strangers staying in the same guest apartment for the night.

A friend of mine wrote an article and used a quote that truly rings true in my head.  The quote is from Rebbe Nachman which had been a major song from my NCSY days. 

 כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאוד, והעיקר - לא לפחד כלל

'The whole world is a very narrow bridge. The most important thing is to have no fear at all'

The night Channah was born, I was completely clueless at how much danger Channah was in. I looked at the entire 6.5 week NICU experience as simply the path to bring her home. It never occurred to me that her life was in danger.

If someone told me at that time her Bat Mitzvah would be taking place in Israel with a Canadian theme, I would have thought they were crazy.

Tomorrow morning, Channah and I will be driving to the 'holy' city of Metula for the only hockey tournament in the world that has a daf yomi shiur.  Over 4 days, I will be playing in 5 games for the Grey Team as we attempt to win the tournament. In between games, Channah and I will be picking food from the fields for Leket, a trip to the hot springs, a 2 hour ATV ride of the area and a tour of how they make pomegranate wine. I truly look forward to this time to bond with her as a young lady, and truly see how much she has grown.

In two weeks she will be celebrating with a skating activity followed by an elaborate party with her friends. I would never have guessed the unique Bat Mitzvah experience combined with recently allowing Channah restricted access to WhatsApp, would break down the walls of isolation that Channah has been struggling with for so long.

The hospital Channah was born at follow their preemies for 6 years. Their research found that preemies tend to have a stubborn streak. They were not sure if the stubbornness was a natural character trait that increased the chance of survival or if it was a natural reaction to the NICU experience.

Channah is as stubborn as they come. At times it can be frustrating when she decides to start a battle of wits. Once you get through to her, she has the power to excel. Every teacher who has ever had her has loved to have her as a student. Her grades show it. She also has poise to handle the most difficult challenges that life can throw at her. She has always been something special.

Life can be scary. Sometimes looking back at what we have overcome together can be shocking when I realize how afraid I should have been. Without fear we can achieve anything. I am so proud of the young lady she has become.