Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Aliyah 101, The Pilot Trip

2/4/08
I started thinking about writing this journal months ago & never took the time to jot down my thoughts. Now here we are 9 months since we decided to make the move & I'm finally taking a moment to put my thoughts on paper.

Why are we going? I suppose everyone who makes Aliyah has a different reason. I think 10 years ago when I visited the land for the first time I knew I was home & that the US was just a nice place to visit where I had happened to have the great fortune to be born. I have all kinds of ideological reasons for going.. I want my sons and grandchildren to be Israeli. I want them to grow up in a country where being Jewish is the norm – not the minority. I want to live holy in the land in hopes of hastening the time of Tikkun Olam and the coming of the Meschiach.
I want to have some input in the political system & try to prevent the secular government from trading away our precious land for some lie about peace. All of that is mixed together with some sense of belonging to the land itself – which is completely unexplainable in any logical sense.

I know that I am very lucky (or perhaps it is all part of Ha Shem's plan) to have a wonderful husband who feels the same way I do. We have friends where one or the other of the couple has always wanted to make Aliyah & their spouse does not. In every case that means they don't. Perhaps that is because the calling to do so is so esoteric & difficult to explain. But my husband advises he has always known – just like I have - that is where he belongs. It wasn't something we even spoke about for the first 10 years we were together. It wasn't until chance provided us an opportunity to go to Israel together on a tour. I told my husband that I wanted to go – but if we didn't leave our (then) 3 year old son here in the states I most likely would not return. He laughed & told me he felt the same way. I cried all the way back & was inconsolable for months to be away from the land that had stolen my heart.

Okay, so what have we accomplished in the 9 months that have lingered since we made that choice last fall & now. We got all our paperwork in order, got a TIK number assigned by the Jewish Agency, got in our application with Nefesh B' Nefesh. I have given notice at work & managed to negotiate a scenario that I can stay on at full pay assisting my replacement until my NBN flight. My husband has put in for voluntary separation from his employer that will hopefully provide us with 6 months of his paycheck after he leaves. (A later note is that he was indeed awarded the voluntary separation package & his last day will be March 28th)

What haven't we done? Sold our house, or even finished the dining room/kitchen remodel we started last summer. Figured out what items are going with us & what we are trashing or giving away, or selling here in the states. Figured out which community in Israel we are settling in (hopefully the pilot trip will answer that question). Most of all – figuring out how in the world we are going to pay for everything!

But we are still excited, and know that it is the right thing for our family. We know we will do it & endure whatever hardships it presents. That it will be worth whatever it takes & that somehow it will all work out in the end.

Pilot Trip notes:
Our flight into Chicago was delayed due to bad weather there - they would not let us take off until they knew the weather would be clear enough to land.. lake effect snow, etc. So our flight was delayed 2 hours. By the time we got into Chicago our connection to Vienna was long gone. So United booked us on a flight on Lufthansa to Frankfurt - it did not leave Chicago until 10:40 pm (we arrived ORD about 4:00pm). I stood in line at the information desk for about 30 - 45 minutes trying to get details on our connections & where our bags were. While I was standing in line I also called United - they have one of those frustrating automated answering systems where you have to speak your information into the phone & their computer always says, "I'm sorry - I didn't get that, can you repeat it again?" about 20 times. Finally I got thru to a live person who tells me that our connection out of Frankfurt to Tel Aviv didn't leave until 10:50 Wednesday night & arrive in Tel Aviv Thursday at 3:30 am local time! I asked couldn't they book us on different flights that got us in earlier - we were not looking forward to a 13 hour layover in Frankfort. I advised we had friends in Chicago we could probably call for an overnight stay & then couldn't we catch a morning flight to say New York & a Continental flight to Tel Aviv from there. No - we had to fly with a "Star Alliance partner" & that was not Continental, or Delta or obviously El Al. I tried for almost an hour arguing with the agent on the phone & got absolutely nowhere - the flight plan was set!

Okay so we were looking at another 6 hours in Chicago. We found there was a sandwich shop in Chicago that would deliver kosher food to the airport & so we called, chatted with them & worked out the details so that we could have dinner in Chicago - we had found out there would be no kosher food on the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt because we neglected to book the meals 24 hours in advance (silly us - what were we thinking!!) Because the weather was so bad it took the delivery driver 45 minutes to get to the airport & then they wouldn't let him thru the gate because he didn't have a boarding pass. JDC went out of the terminal proper to get the food from him.. It cost us $90.00 for the sandwiches and delivery!!!!! (they even got the order wrong & sent chips instead of fries - sigh). Then the airport wouldn't let JDC back into the terminal because he didn't have a boarding pass either (we had assumed we would get them at the gate when the Lufthansa people finally arrived). Se he called me & we wangled with security to pass the food thru to me - so the boys & I could eat it while it was still relatively fresh & JDC would go to the Lufthansa ticket counter & get his boarding pass. (I had to get security to pass his passport to him when I got the food!)

The boys & I found some place to sit & eat - everyone was thirsty - so I gave the boys a 20 dollar bill & sent them down the terminal to get everyone drinks.. They got 4 small bottles of soda & it took all 20.00! (sigh - things aren't going so well). K- so the boys & I finally sit down to eat & JDC calls on my almost dead cell phone (charger is in my luggage - not my carry on) & tells me we all have to come out to get the boarding passes out there - they would not issue them inside the terminal because even though United told us we were booked on the Lufthansa flight - they didn't tell Lufthansa. So back we go to security to get outside the terminal (this is the big security gate you go thru to get inside the terminal - really supposed to be one way only) we're schlepping all our carry ons & the food & drinks. I have to fight with security to let us out (the Lufthansa counter is just on the other side - they want us to walk to the other end of the terminal & go outside & then have to walk all the way back in the freezing cold & snow & heavy winds). Finally one of the workers sees that I'm pretty much at the end of my rope & lets us out. So we get to the Lufthansa ticket counter - I send the boys to a seat about 200 feet away to eat & drink while we work out the details of the flights.


So we are at the Lufthansa gate, JDC & I, working out the details with the ticketing agent & of course we ask for kosher meals on the flight from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv - "no no, they can't do that" - "but we are more than the 24 hour in advance time window," "no you have to book them 48 hours in advance." "Oy we have a 13 hour layover in Frankfurt & then no kosher meals on the flight - what am I supposed to feed my family, I have two young boys!" "So you'll get something in the airport." "Are you crazy - there isn't even a kosher restaurant in the Chicago airport why do you think there would be one in the Frankfurt airport!" (Now she gets real snooty) "I know kosher - I grew up with a Jewish friend - I know all about kosher! The airport in Frankfurt is like a city unto itself - it's huge & there is everything there! You will find food no problem!" Oy - things are really not going so well - I ask again "Please will you just call them - tell them it's an emergency & see can they please just put 4 more kosher meals aside for the flight.. Frankfurt is your hub, right - they should be able to get 4 more meals between now (like 7:30pm Chicago time) and 10:50 pm tomorrow Frankfurt time." "No - No they cannot do it - I won't call" Okay - so now we start the discussion regarding our luggage - are they sure it was transferred to Lufthansa from United? Not to worry, we are told, Our luggage will follow us - "but can you call & make sure" (I'm making the woman mad again!) "No - No I told you, it will be Okay! - anyway they won't know until the flight leaves" What??!! they don't know what they put on the plane before it leaves???

Okay - so we get our boarding passes & go back to security & realize we still have 3 of the 4 sodas untouched (JDC & I haven't had our sandwiches yet - Ari hadn't finished his soda) - but of course, even though we bought them in the concourse they cannot go back thru. So I say, we'll sit & finish our dinner here & drink our sodas & then go thru - oh no, this security gate is closing in 5 minutes - the only other one that is open is way down at the other end of the airport (back outside in the wind & cold & snow - schlepping those heavy carry-ons) Nu - so we throw away 15 dollars worth of soda & go thru security (shoes off, laptops out of the bags, everything out of the pockets, remove the belts, etc - you know the drill!).

Finally we get back close to our gate - it's very crowded now, there's no place to sit, so we go a couple of gates back to find seats & JDC & I sit down to eat. Included in the meal is a small container of coleslaw that I quickly finish & see that across the way there is a water fountain. So I go over, get a long drink & fill up the little cup (like 3 ozs) with water to bring back to my seat. JDC & I do this several times to have with our, now very dry, $90.00 sandwiches.

I decide I need to get onto the Wi/Fi connection so that I can email the folks in Israel & let them know we will not be arriving on Wednesday, but Thursday at 0'dark 30 AM. Of course not only is my phone charger in my luggage, but also the power supply to my laptop (duh!!) Luckily JDC put his power supply in his carry-on bag & so we had one that we could switch between the two computers. So we look around for a place to plug in & find these little Internet desks here & there along the terminal. I sit down, plug in - but I can't seem to get connected. There at the desk is an informational notice about Wi/Fi at ORD & it tells me I can receive emails - but I can't send them out. Great! Of course by now my phone is dead - so there is simply no way of letting anyone know what is going on with us. Sigh.

We finally board the flight to Frankfurt. Before we even take off the flight attendant is there to talk with us about our meal needs - he understands we need kosher - but he has nothing, he offers us salads & he has a huge fruit plate that is to be "breakfast" for the crew that he offers to us. What a life saver, he was so kind & I was practically in tears just to be treated kindly by someone. They offered us free beverages on the flight of course, but that even included a double scotch apiece for JDC & I.

We arrived in Frankfurt around 9:am Wednesday. Found in the bathrooms we could buy this min-toothbrush thing each for about 3.50 American apiece (by the time you do the conversion from the Mark at the kiosk that charges you 2.00 for the exchange!) We all brushed & washed up in the bathrooms & sat down at a gate to eat the rest of the fruit we still had from the flight & some kosher snack food we managed to find in the Chicago Airport (sunflower seeds, honey roasted peanuts, yogurt & chocolate covered pretzels). Once again we try to get onto the local airport Wi/Fi but I just couldn't get on - it was thru T-Mobile & we don't have a T-Mobile account. One woman (another American passenger) heard us talking about it all & advised in a different terminal (we were in the wrong one anyway - we were in B - needed to go to C) she was able to open up a one day T-mobile account - cost her like 20.00, neither of us could get it to work there. So we packed up our bags & departed for Terminal C (more security check points).
We tried & tried to find a way to plug in the laptops & connect with the Internet - there we no available plugs to use anywhere in terminal C that we could find. But they did have these Internet machines, where you could swipe your credit card & get connected. I think it cost me about 25.00 to send a 3 minute email to the folks in Israel with our flight information and arrival time. All we could do was hope someone there was paying attention & would meet us at Ben Gurion airport.

Terminal C is supposed to be the main terminal & so now we are going to see the Cosmopolitan City we were told about.. where there was kosher food to be had aplenty to carry us thru the day. Okay - what is there really is, is a bunch of very expensive duty free shops selling cosmetics, luggage, alcohol, clothing, cigarettes, candy, etc. Certainly there was no kosher food. We even got to the point where we were looking for heckshers on candy. Even the candy you can buy in the states, like M&Ms & such were not heckshered there. Only one heckshered item we found was a 2lb box of Toblerone, that equated out to some absolutely ridiculous price in American dollars. So we bought nothing. We found a cart we could dump our carry-ons into, baruch Ha Shem! So we wandered the airport for several hours. There was hardly any seating except at the restaurants (which we knew we couldn't eat at). Finally we happened upon this little bench like area right in the middle of the terminal. There was a Sephardi chasid sitting there looking pretty forlorn, eating broken matzo bits out of a bag & reading a book. I set JDC down next to him & they struck up a conversation - yes he also was going out on the 10:40pm flight to Tel Aviv & found the airport sorely lacking in amenities. We ended up spending the day with him - he showed us pictures of his kids & his beautiful home in Betar. He worked in a bookshop in Betar & was eager to get home to his family. Finally we all got tired of sitting in the benches where we were.. close by must have been the gate for flights departing to China because we were inundated with Chinese travelers & the seating was very crowded & noisy. So we all decided we would get up & find our gate & sit there.

Our gate was a ways down towards the end of the terminal. We had passed many gates, but this one looked very different. Instead of having accessible seating around an open gate (like everywhere else we saw), this had a bunch of security equipment outside the gate & a glass walled area separating the seating area from the rest of the terminal. The sliding door into the seating area was slightly open & there were some people inside but they wouldn't let us in. There were some miscellaneous seats scattered around the seating area so we coalesced them into the "waiting area" and all sat down.. we chatted & napped & passed the day. Another family showed up with 3 children & we did some rearranging - bumped the boys from their seats so the adults could all sit. The mother had a walker with her & obviously could not stand for the next 4-5 hours. Finally about 2 hours before boarding a bunch of Lufthansa people started showing up, rearranging all the security equipment. There were about 20 airport employees there (more than the number of passengers waiting to board at that point). When they had the security area all set up they bumped us all off our seats & took them into the roped off area & sat down, chatting & having a good time while we were all now standing (including the elderly mother with the walker! - It's not like they couldn't have gone into the nice gate area to sit!) An hour plus later they were finally ready to let us into the seating area. Now none of the other gates we saw (& we had been wandering the airport at length) had additional security - we'd already had to passed thru one just to get into the terminal - but here is another one just for this one gate that is only boarding the flight to Tel Aviv. (no other flights had gone out of this gate all day that we were there). Plus passing thru the metal detector wasn't enough. Each & every passenger was throughly frisked with a wand & by hand (not one portion of my body was uninspected!) It was very demeaning & embarrassing.

Finally we are allowed into the nice lounge/seating area. Other passengers started arriving & the place got pretty busy. There were more than enough men for a minyan & our new Sephardi friend, Kfir, rounded up a bunch of the men - JDC found out from the police standing guard at our gate (we had not seen police anywhere else in the terminal!) which way was east. It was truly an amazing site to see this group of men standing in the terminal davening Ma'ariv in the Frankfurt airport. Almost as if as a group (all the passengers were obviously Jewish) we were saying to the Germans all around us "you tried to dispose of us & yet we are still here!"
Once things settled down a bit JDC went up to the ticket agents to again inquire about our luggage - again we were told the same things - "we won't know until the plane departs". How inane! I wanted to say "Why the hell not!!??" But by now I knew that I would get no answers in this wonderful stand alone cosmopolitan city of Frankfurt airport.

Finally we boarded & once again were offered the very soothing, free double shot of scotch! The stewardesses found 3 extra kosher meals on board that were large enough to split between the 4 of us. The food was absolutely fabulous & the first hot meal we had eaten since dinner Monday night! I can have no complaints about the on board service we experienced on Lufthansa. The ground crew & airport personnel were another matter. I didn't sleep much on the flight into Frankfurt & even less on the flight into Tel Aviv - so by the time we landed I was absolutely exhausted.

Day 1 of our pilot trip

We got through the passport check with no trouble & found our way to baggage claim. Of course our luggage was not there, so we went to the lost baggage counter & filed a claim. They gave us 800 Shekleem for our trouble (this came from Ben Gurion not Lufthansa). Then we wandered into the main terminal with the intention of finding someplace to plug in the laptop & getting on the Internet to see if there were any email responses from Tehilla regarding our flight changes. Before we had a chance to really get settled we spied a man with a brightly colored sign across the terminal (there were several with signs we had seen - but none had our names on them). I pointed the gentleman out to JDC & he said he thought it was our name on the sign. He went sprinting across the terminal (how he got the energy to do that is beyond me!) Sure enough it was Paysi Golumb here at 3:30 in the morning to pick us up!!! What a blessing! He helped us get an Israeli cell phone & drove us to our apartment in Beit Shemesh (which is beautiful!)
Isaac was oohing & ahhing all the way there. He was amazed at how green everything was. Ari fell asleep & missed the whole drive. Paysi introduced us to the apartment, where everything was & left us to get settled. He asked us if we thought we would be up for anything that was on the schedule for the day (we missed the Pizza night in Be'er Sheva the night before – or so we thought. We worked out that we would miss the morning activity of the horse back ride & trip to Yad Benyamin – but do the Be'er Sheva activities early afternoon. Meanwhile we were to take a little nap. Less than an hour later Barbara Brown called & said she'd be willing to come take us to the grocery store. The men were already all asleep – so I alone went with her – that was an experience – but good & we got food to last the week (less expensive than eating out). Spent all 800 Shekleem we got from the airport & forgot deodorant! (duh!) Barbara was very helpful & introduced me to about 20 people we encountered in the grocery store - “this is Cyndy from KS” the reply was always “there are Jews in KS??!!” We got back to the apartment & put away all the food. Barbara left me to get some rest – but no-one in KC had news of our safe arrival. So I took the hour I had to send some much needed mails to loving folks at home & to connect to those expecting us later in Israel. Got everyone up & fed & out the door by 11:15 for the trip to Be'er Sheva. It started to rain on the way & was rainy & cold the rest of the day (imagine – rain in the Negev! It was awesome despite that it was uncomfortable) We stopped in a community called Meitar – reminded me of Boise ID – nice large cottages that run 120 – 210 K American. We were hosted by Leah Wolf – very nice lady – who then invited Rav Elisha to come over & speak with us (head of the boys Yeshiva in Meitar & Jr High in Be'er Sheva). We learned about an excellent program for Olim boys that focuses on Bagroot preparations. Sounded really good. Isaac went to play for about 30 minutes with a boy his age down the street (Ari was asleep – he was invited to but passed) Leah showed us a vacant house in the neighborhood we could buy for 160K$ - it was quite big, by Israeli standards & had 5 bedrooms – but she advised we would want to install another bath in the house. We didn't get to see inside (remember it was absolutely pouring! We were standing in the rain looking in thru windows) – by Israeli standards it was a very good purchase.

Next we went to the offices of the OR organization – a not for profit focused on bringing Olim & Israelis to settle the Negev. They showed us city plans & talked about the progress of several different communities they are building. I was really impressed, however, I have to admit that while we were at OR I hit my limit. Recall that I had not had more than an hour or two sleep since Monday night... I found myself copiously taking notes during this meeting - on a subject that I am passionate about & suddenly startling awake realizing I had no idea what I was writing, or how much time had passed since I dozed off. It was very embarrassing & I'm sure the people there thought I was an absolute dolt! This must have gone on for quite some time before I got up the guts to apologize for my untoward behavior - after all, I was the reason we were all there. I'm the one who is so interested in moving to the south. Anyway, they were very kind & gracious, started pumping me full of water to try to energize me & out we all went into the rain again for the next stop of the day, An aside here - this is so ludicrous! I had the gall to ask the woman for a job! I mean I really am passionate about settling the Negev - but I couldn't even stay awake for their whole presentation! Another reason to laugh at myself!

Next stop on the tour was the home of Miriam and Phillip (I think) Green. They live in a rather small older row house that they have adjusted well to fit their family of 5 (2 boys, 1 girl in the middle). They were very warm and open - by this time I began to feel the rotation of the earth beneath my feet. We had tea & snacks, I had given up trying to take notes & so I have no idea what we talked about - not a clue! Then we took another walk (in the rain, yes indeed!) to another couples home for a Pizza party. The pizza did help energize me some, though I no longer trusted my own two legs. I deftly planted myself in a cozy chair & let whomever would wait on me do so. I recall that the couple were very interesting (as was as much of their home as I could see). David is South African, very distinguished looking and has a quirky sense of humor. His wife Shlomit, beautiful, is from New York. They as a couple made Aliyah from New Zealand. I came to understand (by my 3rd piece of pizza) that I was in the heart of academia, as all these adults I had met in Be'er Sheva were college professors at the University in Be'er Sheva. I was absolutely amazed! When we were in Israel 10 years ago all there was to Be'er Sheva was an aqueduct dig site. Now here is academia attracting handsome young couples from New Zealand! We soon scarfed all the pizza, & seeing as the next day there was school for all the children gathered there except my own (maybe 5 - maybe 10 - I can't recall) we said our Toda's (thank you's) & graciously departed for the hour plus drive back to (thank God!) our apartment in Bet Shemesh. I think we got to bed sometime after 11:pm. (I no longer knew what time zone I was in!)

I had vowed to sleep in. I knew I needed to sleep in. Mentally I was prepared to sleep in. My body, however, was still functioning on Kansas time. So it woke up at 6:am sigh - I just couldn't catch a break!

Day 2
Friday morning dawned a bright Camelot day (rain at night – beautiful warm & sunny in the day). We let Paysi & Barbara have a day off to prepare for Shabbat & we took a Taxi to the Bigs (shopping area in Beit Shemesh). Since by now we knew we would not have our bags for Shabbat, we had decided to purchase much needed items. Ari had NO Shabbat clothes at all. We found a dark pair of pants & a dressy looking stripped shirt with a collar – it was a nice thick fabric – here it is called a sweatshirt. Isaac had most everything he needed but found a nice Israeli kepa for next to nothing. JDC purchased a white shirt & I found a blouse to work with the two other dresses I had in my carry on. We looked briefly at some appliances. Refrigerators the size we would by in America were running 15,000 to 25,000 Shekeleem. (exchange rate is 3.65 = 4,100 – 6,800 plus American!). I think I found them for 1500 to 2500 on a website in Chicago & they would ship to the container company or to Israel direct (for more $$ of course). It was harder to get a taxi back than we anticipated – when we called the cab company they advised they don't send cabs there as there are already a bunch there. We had to wait about 15 minutes before we found one available & then he overcharged us by 2 Shekleem (Paysi said a cab anywhere in Beit Shemesh should be 17 NIS). Barbara picked me up a little later & took me to a woman in Beit Shemesh who sells hats from her house – Esther Rosen. I added two Israeli hats to my collection & 1 nice black one for Shabbat. That evening we walked to Rabbi David's shul - ½ block down, turn right, then another block – It was beautiful. Had Friday night dinner with the Lipkin family. They had their daughter & son-in-law & grandson in, plus a friend from the states, a young woman who teaches in Baltimore. Randi Lipkin (mom of the house) had lots of helpful advice for us. She said, budget for a 40 ft lift & then fill it. The cost is per volume, not weight anyway. And everyone has advised bring a new Maytag washer & dryer (for 220) and an Amana Refrigerator. The other appliances here are more amenable.. but these are a must from America. Note to self – get an email address for Randi Lipkin, you owe her friend more information about the children's 100 Hebrew words book. So here is an amazing connection Michael Lipkin's father was Julie Fine's teacher at Stern – they knew exactly who our Rabbi & his wife was!

Day 3 of our Pilot Trip was Shabbat spent in Beit Shemesh. It was wonderful & warm & all the people were very friendly. I was lost in services both Friday night & Saturday day (spent at two different shuls) because of all the Hebrew & really glad I had carried in my own familiar & loved siddur (prayer book).
Shabbat afternoon was spent with our Tehilla director, Paysi Golomb, and his family – can't remember his wife's name, daughter (15 – beautiful, gracious!) was named Ruthie. Had lots of opportunities to talk & ask questions – both the Lipkins and the Golombs are recent (3 years) Olim. Their wisdom & suggestions were invaluable. They both encouraged me to bring things we love in our container – no matter how frivolous. They said when all the tsuris of settling was over, those would be the things we missed most.

Saturday night after Havdalah Barbara picked us up & took us to the home of Steve & Brenda Ganot (also olim). They were having friends in to watch a movie & included us. It was a wonderful evening – lots of fun & talk – turns out Brenda & Steve were friends of the Ellis-Rech family formerly of KC. Wanted to know if I could get them in touch – they hadn't shared emails with them in years. I promised to do what I could to get a contact. Brenda had a gift shop in her safe room & so I bought gifts for friends at home & a beautiful Challah cover for myself. Home to the apartment & we needed desperately to do laundry – put the boys to bed & had our first experience with the Israeli Laundry system.. It took from about 11:15 pm to 2:30 pm to run a load of wash – When I finally got the clothes into the dryer I was pretty exhausted & dropped into bed.


Day 4
Sunday dawned cold & rainy & we were out the door early for a road trip to Gush Etzion. This community is outside the green line – south of Jerusalem. It is very mountainous, with lots of windy roads. We had to pass through a checkpoint to get there & made a point of greeting all the soldiers with big smiles & many Toda Raba's (thank you very much!), because they are keeping us all safe. Our first stop was an Ulpan in a small community at the top of the mountain. There were many people there & several that were American Olim. Even a man from Kansas – though he had left and moved to Maryland more than a decade ago. The class was taking a break (perfect timing arranged by our guide Barbara!) so we had a chance to smooze with many people – ask them why they made Aliyah, why they chose Gush Etzion. We took down many names & email addresses so that we could keep in contact. The teachers there were very nice – one woman had been in Gush Etzion 27 years – transplanted herself from Ra'anana I think. Definitely a Sabra (native born in Israel).
Next stop was the home of a family who had moved to Neve Daniel (still in the Gush Etzion region) from New York. We met Ima Laurie, and yeled Yoseph - about 1 year old. Isaac played with him while we talked. The had a quad “cottage”. They don't call them duplexes or quadplexes in Israel – but they are single family homes built with either one shared wall between two homes – or a grid of 4 two on top & two on the bottom. Each will have two floors. The upper homes will have the main living level on the lower floor – where the entry is & bedrooms up. The lower homes will have the main living level on the upper floor – where the entry is & the bedrooms on the lower level. These are built into the side of a hill – so that one side is facing into the mountain & has no windows (except the bedroom level of the upper home) – but the other side has a broad expanse of windows that have wonderful views of the valley below & the outlying area. Neve Daniel is known for being a windy place. The joke is if you want to move to Neve Daniel they stand you in front of a wind tunnel fan & If you can keep you kepa on they let you stay. Laurie gave us contact names for the schools her boys attend in Efrat (next large community over). Rabbi Shlomo Riskin lives there & so we were familiar with the name of the place. Our guide Barbara got us an appointment with Rav Kimchi, head of the yeshiva high school for boys in Efrat & so out in the wind & rain we went. (Later note – this is note one of the schools under Rabbi Riskin.) We took a driving tour with a man named Chaim – one of the original settlers of Gush Etzion. There was a small group of them that wanted to create a city there – but the government was opposed. There was a terrorist incident in the area one day & the government's response was proactive. They said – anyone who wants to settle has 24 hours to establish a community. By the end of the 24 hours there were 10 families who had come & set up tents. A little bit later they managed to move up Caravans (trailers) and they lived in them for 7 years. By then end of that period they finally had permission from the government to build an official road & so building materials were able to be brought up & the construction began. Now there is a small city there, with several shuls, groceries, municipal offices, and smattering of small businesses. Many live there & commute to Jerusalem – 15 minutes to the north, of course through the checkpoint. You have to have a car to live there. Everyone agrees it is a wonderful community, the only downside is the weather. Next we went to the Yeshiva high school & met with Rav Kimchi. He advised that his students score in the top 3% on their Bagroot exams (matriculation/graduation exams). We discovered that one of the support staff in the high school office was the niece of a elderly woman in our community in Kansas that Isaac visits with every Shabbat! What a small world! We went to visit Michael Fredman, principle of the elementary school. He advised that holding Isaac back a year was a good idea & that he recommended that we not pull the boys out of class for Ulpan, but do as much Hebrew instruction between now & next fall as we can, then they will sit in class & if they still need help (which they will) this is one of the cities that qualifies for the extra klita assistance, so there will be tutoring available – but not till after January because the extra klita money will all be funneled to Ulpan until then.

Next was a drive to Rehovot where we visited a museum called the Bullet Factory. This is an amazing place. Previous to the war of independence (1948) there was a group of young men & women who had all been involved in youth group here in Israel. They had decided they wanted to stay together & build a new settlement. They were approached by the military & asked if first they would commit to a project of great importance and great secrecy. There would be danger involved & very hard work, but it would be a task that would mean a successful outcome in the war. The group voted to do it. They were taken to a yeshuv in the area that is now Rehovot. This appeared to be a typical yeshuv, sleeping quarters, a community house, a bakery, a laundry, etc. Except that early in the morning – before anyone else was up they were led to the laundry room. Once there, the huge washing machine was pushed aside & revealed a metal stair leading down into an underground complex. The military had built/hidden a bullet factory here. These young men & women worked there in secret, creating bullets, right under the feet of the controlling British. In those days the British had passed laws in the area that it was illegal for Jews to own guns or arms – all the while they were providing the same to Arabs in the area. Those Jews caught with arms, let alone creating them were subject to the strongest criminal prosecution, even death. During the time of this secret complex, these brave youth manufactured over 2 million bullets & their efforts helped turn the tide of the war in Israel's favor. After the war, the group went on to build their settlement not far from this area. Many of them, and their descendants are still living there.

That evening Barbara took all of us to her house for dinner & kept the boys while Paysi picked us up & took us into Jerusalem for an AACI (Americans & Canadians in Israel) meeting regarding the Israeli paycheck. It was an overview of the basic deductions we could expect in our paychecks, both from the government and our employer. It was very informative & I took copious notes. We were also given an idea of some wage levels for different jobs & found that though everyone has warned that we will see a decrease in our pay scales moving from the states to Israel – since JDC was so grossly underpaid by Sprint, chances are he will see an increase just to bring him up to the lesser Israeli level for his expertise & education.

Day 5
Monday morning we headed to Modiin. This is a new city – nothing existed here 10 years ago when we came to tour. Now it is huge & they are planning it will triple the size it is now. The entire area is filled with housing – red tile, blue tile & gray tile roofs everywhere. They have built connections to the train from Tel Aviv & there is one train stop already functioning. Another one is in the works & the train is also going to connect to Jerusalem eventually. The most popular & therefore most expensive neighborhood is in Buchman. Perhaps because the city is relatively new, it is also very clean. There are several very nice parks, but the only other green spaces you see in the neighborhoods are peoples yards (they call them gardens here). There are not areas for planting outside next to the street, which makes sense – as technically no-one would own them, so the city would have to pay to maintain them. But the area does not look stark, the buildings are quite beautiful & many people have trees and vines growing right along their fence areas next to the sidewalk. So, we were looking for a more expensive area by any means, but that is where the high school is & so we started there. Yeshiva High Schools here are not like in America. First just because it is called Yeshiva should not imply ultra religious, dorms or 9-12th grades. Some or all or none of those conditions may be the case. In the case of the Yeshiva in Buchman, it starts with 7th grade. There are no dorms, and the school is Dati Leumi (in other words, what the general Modern Orthodox would hope for their child, half day religious instruction, half day secular instruction). The school day lasts till about 5 except on Tuesdays and Fridays – which are always short school days everywhere in the country. Parts of this school were still under construction & so a lot of their normally outdoor activities were indoors. The hallways were filled with ping pong tables & while we were there we happened upon break time. Many many boys, happy playing together were in the hallway, it was a bit noisy & chaotic, but I found it was a good way to see how the guys felt & how they treated each other. Over all I had a very pleasant impression of the atmosphere. We met with one of the counselors & got an overview of what types of studies Isaac could be engaged in if he attended there. Also we were told about the many field trips the boys would have. They learn about a piece of history in the land, do a report on it & then go spend a day there. There are also some overnights planned throughout the year.. The point is they get to go out & see the land, learn about their religious heritage & have some time outside the classroom. In retrospect this was the yeshiva I had the best feeling about. Next we visited an elementary school & met with the principle Naava (I can't remember her last name & it appears I didn't write it down.) She didn't speak much English – but Barbara & Ariel interpreted for us. This school is only 1 year old – it was started because the other grade school (right next door) was full. They are in temporary lodgings while a new school building is being built (I think next to the yeshiva). They currently have about 30 kids who are English speaking Olim & have been working a program in the classroom where those kids get extra help catching up in Hebrew. I liked the idea of the kids getting to stay in the class – it helps the socialization process, plus the help they get is directly related to what they are studying in school, instead of a separate Ulpan, where it is like they have an additional subject they have to take on, over and above their normal class work. It appears that school gets out around 1:00ish most days & then earlier still Tuesdays and Fridays.. They are building a new mall in Modiin & the community already has a couple of large grocery stores, municipal offices, a movie house & a bowling alley.

We then went to the home of Arielle Lax. It turns out that earlier in the day we spoke to several boys at the yeshiva & one of them happened to be her son Daniel (!) She & her family have been here not even a year. They are renting a duplex cottage in Modiin, but not sure they want to stay – because of the price. Though she likes the community a lot. Her kids have made lots of friends. Her husband works in Jerusalem & so it's not a bad commute. I told her we were going to look at Maale Adumim & she said that's the community they are considering, or maybe Efrat – both of which have really short commutes to Jerusalem. The homes in Modiin are very nice. Of course, everywhere there are tile floors & marble counters, but here the colors are nice, the layout of the main level is conducive to Sabbath entertainment. Most of the kitchens are large & most everyone in these communities have full size American refrigerators. Gas stoves or range tops are the norm – which I'm happy to see since I'm planning on bringing a gas range top. Most all the kitchens have an informal eating space. Some have rooms off the back for a washer/dryer others have fit these into a larger bathroom. The living/dining area usually always comprise one large room. But the room appears to be large enough to have plenty of seating for each area without feeling crowded. Our driver, Avi, also has an apartment in Modiin – though not in the Buchman area. He has a penthouse (top floor) apartment, though it is not the entire top floor (I think there was two other apartments on that level). Apparently most of the top floor apartments all have larger balconies – his view was incredible! You could see all the way to Tel Aviv from one side & off towards the hills of Jerusalem on the other. Some of the apartment have 2 or even 3 floors. Many of the cottages do also.

After our visit to Modiin we went to a mall, got some cash, bought some Pizza and Falafel & went to Avi's apartment for lunch. Then we went to the Monkey farm for a fun afternoon. The weather was warm & perfect & we walked & looked at all the monkeys & learned about them. It was a nice relaxing time.

After that we drove north to Ariel. It is in the middle of the country – west of Tel Aviv in almost a straight line. Our guide was Avi Zimmerman, who works for the municipality, encouraging new Olim to come to the area. This is one of the communities we looked at online & were very interested in. Housing here is relatively inexpensive. Though they are filling up fast. There are a few more cottage quadplexes scheduled to be built, and if you buy in while they are still on paper then you can get a better price. All over the country we have been hearing how poorly our American dollar is doing – so that means when new Americans come they end up spending more for housing because they are coming with American dollars to buy. So the website we looked at had quoted Avi as saying you could buy a 4 room cottage (that's 3 bedrooms) for around 160K American. But with the dollar dropping that is now closer to 200K for the same unit (which are all sold anyway). Avi said that the builder is now revamping the plans because so many had asked for at least one more bedroom & a larger main room area (we didn't get to look inside any of the homes), so those will be a little more expensive. This is a pretty sizable community. All built on a couple of hills, so the roads are curvy & windy up & down & around. Some of the Gush Katif people have settled here – in a caravan (trailers) community right in the heart of the upper city. There's also a University here & they are building dorms right & left. The day had been warm when we were at the Monkey Farm, but now it was cold & windy & had started to sprinkle. As we found in most of the communities, there were not many shul buildings, but many people met & davened (prayed) in a school or storefront, or someone's home. Many are raising funds & hope to build close by. The men all went to the trailer that housed the Shul for the Gush Katif group & davened Mincha (afternoon prayers) with them. Overall it was a beautiful community, but it felt kind of crowded & packed onto the mountain (Julie later supplied a word that fit best – claustrophobic). There was lots of greenery & a huge community center & a cultural arts center were each being built. There were many parks and walking paths, those on the outer edges of the city had amazing views. We drove by a couple of the schools, but didn't go in any. Avi advised that though there was a Yeshiva (high school) in town, most of the Olim sent their boys on buses to either Jerusalem or Carne Shomrom to school.

At the end of the day we headed back to Bet Shemesh. Barbara had been talking with the Lufthansa agents & arranged for our luggage (which had finally arrived in Israel) to be delivered to her neighbors house – since we weren't going to be home. We swung by – picked up our luggage & then back to our own apartment. Inspection of the luggage revealed several pieces were badly damaged & a pocket that Isaac had put his Tallis bag in was completely torn. Luckily his bag was still there & we determined nothing was missing. Still, we will need to file a claim with Lufthansa to replace the money we had to spend on Shabbat clothes & to replace the damaged luggage.

Day 6
Tuesday we went to Carne Shomron. South of Ariel – in the center of the country. This is in the Shomrom like Ariel, (obviously), another of the “disputed areas”. I want to put a note in here that it is only the Palestinians who “dispute” this area & they are the ones who have called it an “illegal settlement” even though Israeli's have purchased the land clearly & legally. Somehow the world has caught onto the term & the government is willing to put these areas on the table because it is hinted that if we gave up all the land in these “disputed territories” then we would have peace. It's all ludicrous because they have shown they would not give us peace – when we ousted over 300 families from the property they bought, built houses & businesses & schools on in Gush Katif, the Palestinians just took over the area & are now bombing Sedarot from there.. Sedarot was not previously a disputed area – but now I am sure they will start saying that was also “their land”. Now the Gush Katif families are displaced, they did not receive the promised homes, or payments to replace their businesses. Most families are living in trailers & many are emotionally destroyed because of their government's betrayal. It's very sad.
Enough of being politically incorrect. Carne Shomrom is a small community. It felt pretty isolated. The housing in the area is much cheaper. A larger single family home “villa” could be had for around 160,000. Of course, in Israel you need to have at least 30 – 40% of the purchase price to put down – that's the minimum. The area is very green – lots of large gardens (yards), the area felt very lush (even though it was cold and rainy again that day). The boys Yeshiva was a bit more serious than the school in Modiin – but Isaac said he liked the feel of it. This is another city that has the extra klita money – but once again, to get use of it the boys would need to attend an Ulpan – out of class. The elementary school was in a relatively new building – boys & girls in the same building – but on different sides. The classes ran 3rd through 6th, the lower grades were in another building. It also had a nice feel to it. We all like the area, but the idea of commuting everyday through the intensely Palestinian populated area to get there made us all a bit nervous. Even though there are checkpoints – there have been incidents on the roads of rock throwing and sniper fire. Barbara's sister Malka lives here & Barbara told us several times the story of her sister along with about 25 other people pinned on the road, on the ground behind their cars due to Palestinians with machine guns deciding that was the day they were going to make a statement against the Jews. Nothing special had happened to instigate the event.. I'm not sure I'm willing to put my family at that kind of risk.
We left Carne Shomron & drove to Maale Adumim. This community is on the west side of Jerusalem. It's so close that you can see Jerusalem from many of the balconies in the city. This is a larger city than most we'd seen except Modiin. It was again very modern looking, very clean. Our tour guide was Shelley Brin. She is an Anglo Olim working for the municipality. Her job is to introduce new Olim to her community & encourage people to move there. Here our Tehilla team left us in Shelley's hands so they could take care of some other important business in Jerusalem. Shelley drove us around, took us to a couple of the schools (though we did not have appointments with any of the administration, so all we could do was look at the facilities), and gave us a general idea of the community there. Mostly observant, many Olim. Housing in the area was cheaper than Modiin, more expensive than Carne Shomrom. In this community there is an Air Force academy that starts at the 7th grade level. Judaics are taught there, but of less importance. This academy does fast-track boys for service in the Air Force, and provides an opportunity for early officer commissions. Now that we are staying an extra week, & have 1 more Shabbat in the land, I have emailed Shelley asking her if she can set us up with a family or families to host us that last Shabbat. When we were done with the tour Shelley dropped us at the main town center & we walked into the mall there, had kosher burgers (very good – but a little expensive). We also walked around & I went to the pharmacy there to buy something for the head cold I'd caught the day before in Ariel (probably due to the quick weather change). We also looked at the supermarket (which was also in the mall) and found most everything there was cheaper than what I'd paid in Bet Shemesh. This community is one of the top ones on my list.

This was the “official” end of our Tehilla Pilot trip and our driver Avi picked us up, took us by the apartment in Beit Shemesh to pick up our luggage. Then he drove us to Rehovot where we had made arrangements to stay with friends of Sandy Isaacson, Jeff & Jill Shames. We spent the evening talking & laughing & finding many things in common. We can now honestly say that WE have friends in Rehovot (& Bet Shemesh, & Metar, & Modiin!).

Thursday Feb 21st (we'd been in Israel exactly 1 week – seemed like a lot longer!) We took a cab to the train station in Rehovot & caught a train to Haifa. It was a beautiful warm day. This was a wonderful travel & as we got further north we had views of the coastline. The boys had never seen the ocean before & so this was pretty exciting for them. Eliad Skuri – who, with his family, had come to Kansas to serve as Torah Mitzion Kollel & help teach the Jews in Kansas about Israel, & had become our close friend, was waiting for us at the train station. It was wonderful seeing that smiling face! He drove us around Haifa a bit, took us to the Bahia Gardens – very beautiful, we looked down over the gardens – but didn't walk down the hundreds of stairs. Then we drove by the Naval Museums & looked at a submarine they had on display. All this with beautiful views of the coastline in the backdrop. Then it was time to pick up the two older Skuri children, Yair & Yael from school. The boys were very excited to see their old friends & there were hugs all around. We drove back to their apartment in Tireat Carmel (a suburb of Haifa). They live on the top floor of an apartment building, with a wide balcony all along one side and halfway around another side. You can see the ocean from the front of the balcony and the Judean hills from the other side. Since I am from L.A., this reminded me so much of home that I was almost brought to tears. I realized I had not laid eyes on the ocean for 10 years – since our last trip to Israel, & before that since 1973, when I was last in California. I took some time to just sit & enjoy the beautiful view – drink in the ambiance, and relish the idea that where ever we chose to live in this beautiful land – the ocean is just a drive or train ride away. Tireat Carmel is like a small community unto itself. It is very safe, and Eli sent all the kids out with some Shekleem to buy falafel & shwarma for lunch. We sat & talked & soon Revital came home with the three younger children; Yishai, Didi & Yiska the baby (whom we had never met as she was born after their return to Israel). We spent some time talking & laughing & enjoying the company of dear friends. Then we all went to dinner at a quaint little fish place in Atlit (a small town nearby). It was John's birthday & we had planned to celebrate it with them – now they were treating us! The fish was wonderful – plenty of it & the normal spread of Israeli salads & relishes & olives, etc, filled our tables to overflowing. Everyone ate their fill & then some (I had the best grilled Salmon steak ever!).

Next morning it was Eli's day to work & Revital had the morning off – she kept the older kids out of school so they could visit their friends from the states. We all took a taxi to Hof Ha Carmel (Hof means beach) & wandered along the beach. It was a very windy day – but the sun was warm & it was wonderful. There were tons of seashells everywhere & we all picked some up to remind us of the day. Finally we let the kids roll up their pant legs & take off their shoes & socks & get into the water. Revital laughed at her kids & said that it was like they'd never been to the ocean before – but in the summer they come all the time. The kids found a tide pool the was formed by a large rocky barrier that ran along the shore & out into the ocean for about 100 yards. They were climbing along the rocks & sure enough Ari fell in & drenched his clothes – they all thought it was great fun & it was with a lot of effort we kept the rest of the kids dry. Eventually we took the cab back to their apartment & tossed all the wet clothes in the dryer (remember I talked about how long it took to do laundry with the Israeli machines – there wasn't enough time to wash them!). Then it was time to catch the train to Modiin where we were being hosted for Shabbat. We packed up some sandwiches & chips to eat on the train & Revital called us a cab. It was hard to say goodbye so soon & we hope to have time to get back to Haifa before we leave for the states.

The train got us into Modiin about 2:pm & Rachel Green picked us up at the train station. Rachel told us how she had grown up & been close friends with our Rabbi, David Fine and then had gone to high school and become close friends with Julie, who later became his wife. She laughed when she said that never could she have imagined the two dear friends from her two different worlds together & she certainly never thought of introducing them – they found each other! But what a great match they are & immediately we had a connection because we all share a fierce love for these mutual friends. What a small world!

Rachel had arranged for us to sleep down the street at the home of Avi & Emily Alpert, have dinner Friday night at the home of Jerry & Ilana Glazer & Luncheon Saturday after Shul at the home of Sheryl & Jeff Kaye. Over all it was a wonderful experience. We made friends with all these people, and our boys made friends with their kids. At Shul the next morning was a Bar Mitzvah & it was very crowded. There were lots of kids & it reminded me of our shul in Kansas (though they meet in the grade school – as their building is not yet built). I met someone who moved from Kansas years ago & was cousins with kids I had gone to high school with – we know lots of people in common. Also there was Brenda Ganot – who had hosted us in their home for movie night just a week earlier – it was her nephew who was the Bar Mitzvah boy. After services we were greeted warmly by many many people. Everyone spoke English. Finally we were introduced to the Rabbi & when he learned we were from Kansas wanted to know if we knew of his dear friend who had spent some years there – Rabbi Eliad Skuri. We had to laugh because we had just spent the previous days with that family & how small the world really is. The community is very warm & friendly, and we enjoyed very much the warm welcome we received there.

The Alperts had us stay again Saturday night, made sure we had their email addresses & helped us find our way to the bus stop next morning. Sunday February 24th.

We had an appointment in Jerusalem with Nefesh B' Nefesh to talk about our Pilot trip & work with an employment counselor. We met with Rachel Goldwag, who we had shared some emails with before we came from the states. Our discussion revolved around helping us to chose a community & to remember to include Ulpan in our plans & the boys. We also learned that one of the newest Olim community klita programs was just starting up in Haifa, which has a large high tech area. So we need to do some follow up there - as maybe that might be a good place for us also. We need to see if the Baca Ulpan is Jerusalem will have any sessions or openings for the boys this summer. It was very fruitful & I got the impression she understood how serious we are & eager to be here.

Then we met with Kim Ephrat – the employment counselor. She had some good pointers for JDC to hone his resume & actually develop different versions of it to focus on specific skills so that he can seek jobs in different sectors (not only engineering, but also technical writing is big here, and also telecommunications). They talked about several opportunities he might have. Then Kim asked me to explain what it is I do. When I did, she got very excited & said – Oh I already have a job for you! Turns out there is a company called Citybook, close to Modiin. They hire Haredi (very observant) women & train them to interpret leases & write lease abstracts. I obviously wouldn't need to be trained & since I already manage a small staff of ladies to administer these leases I might be someone they might be interested in. She placed a call & left a message, & forwarded my resume via email to the company.

Next we had a chance to meet with Avi Silverman, whom we had been emailing & working with for the past several months. He was just back in town from London & so it was serendipitous that we got to meet with him at all. He spent time talking with the boys to see how they really felt about being here. All this is very good because these are all the people who will be deciding if their organization will sponsor our trip over, and if they will grant us extra funds to help smooth our way. Before we had a chance to leave the building Kim Ephrat caught up with us & told me that Citybook had already called back & wanted to interview me. I called them on the office phone & made arrangements to talk with them the next day.

After our meetings with Nefesh B' Nefesh we took a couple of buses to the King David Hotel area. Rachel had given us the phone number of a clearing house for inexpensive car rentals. We had reserved one with Hertz in this area. We picked up our rental car & felt that now the real adventure began! Here we were with a full tank of gas – nowhere we needed to be & not knowing how to get anywhere. We drove around the old city for a bit & then promptly got lost in a not so savory part of town. We worked our way out of there & decided we needed to find a bank to get some cash & maybe find someplace to eat (we hadn't eaten since we left the Alperts in Modiin). Eventually we found ourselves in a very Haredi part of the city. There were so many people, all dressed in dark clothes, most of the men wore hats & had the long curly peyes. All the older women had either sheitels (wigs) or hats. Everyone was in a hurry, going every which way. The streets were narrow & too many cars & buses to fit – but somehow they all did. We were lost in a sea of Haredim! But, we saw a bank! JDC pulled around a corner & parked, he & Ari hopped out of the car to go get some cash. Isaac & I sat & watched all the people while we waited. It was a look into a foreign culture. Finally the guys came back & we were off to try to figure out where in Jerusalem we were. We had a small map of the city & a larger map of the country. I knew we needed to eventually head out on Highway 1 to get to Rehovot, where we were returning for the night. We turned a couple of corners & next thing we knew we were on a major street & there was the entrance to Highway 1! Rather than taking the chance of getting lost again we headed towards home in Rehovot. Most of the main roads in the country run northeast & southwest, or northwest & southeast. Almost nothing runs directly east or west until you get close to Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. So the map told us we would have to do some zigzagging to get where we needed to go. But sure enough, everything was as the map said & soon enough we found ourselves entering Rehovot. Of course now we were as worried about getting lost there as we were in Jerusalem, but somehow we encountered & remembered every turn & pulled right into the driveway in front of their house! We were very proud of ourselves! We ordered a Pizza for dinner & were happy to crash early.


Monday, February 25th
That's today & I have finally caught up with all my journal writing. We spent the day in Rehovot, doing much needed laundry. JDC got his resumes developed & emailed off to Kim Ephrat. He made an appointment with HP to go test for a technical writing position in Tel Aviv at 1:30 tomorrow. I got the call back from Citybook & have an appointment for an interview at 11:00 on Thursday. Who knows we both might have jobs before we head home! Next we need to get with a Realtor in Modiin & see if we can find some reasonably priced apartment in the Givat C area. Top of my list is the Modiin area. I loved the community, if I get the job at Citybook then I will possibly be able to walk or take the bus. If JDC gets the job in Tel Aviv that is an easy commute by train. We will have to see what the interviews bring.
In the evening we went to the Rehovot mall, stopped at the pharmacy to buy more cold medicine for me. Plus Ari work up this morning with a terrible rash - possibly because the Shames older son was home over the weekend & brought a rather large dog with him - that slept in his room (where the boys are bunking).. so we picked up a topical creme for his rash & some pain killer. (a later note here – we finally decided Ari had a mild case of chicken pox – didn't seem to slow him down a bit!!) We picked up some maps at the book store & some groceries to help out at the Shames' (Jill is working late every night this week - so we're trying to help Jeff out feeding the guys.

Tuesday Feb 26th
Today is the day we were supposed to be heading home. Instead we headed out to Jerusalem, visited the Kotel (western wall), went shopping at the Cardo, ate dinner in the old city, and then went to the Haredi section of town, Mea Shearim, & browsed the shops there.. It's an amazing site to see. In most cities the busy shopping/residential areas are crowded only certain times of the day. But in this particular section of Jerusalem there are hundreds of people on the street & many cars bumper to bumper on the road, all the time! There are small crowded colorful shops up & down both sides of the streets for about 5-6 blocks. You can find everything here tablecloths & hand washing cups, silver candlesticks, suits & very expensive clothes for women, Purim costumes, groceries, pizza, of course all kinds of Judaica, lots of jewelry, and Pizza, Falafel, Ice Cream, Bagels. It's noisy & crowded & all Jewish! I loved just spending some time blending in (I dressed appropriately this time!) - but know that I would not want to live that way all the time!

Wednesday Feb 27th
JDC went to interview with Hewlett Packard in Yehud today. He had quite a long interview & then tested for 3 hours. The position he is seeking is for Technical Writing & he thinks things went pretty well. I basically had the day off.. the boys played computer, I hung out with the bird & read a book & enjoyed the beautiful weather & scenery.

Thursday Feb 28th
Today we drove into Modiin Illit & I had a great job interview with a company named Citybook. They are the Israeli branch of Madison Title. They offer outsourcing for various real estate related services, such as Title Insurance and Abstracting Leases. They are starting a new service where they offer Annual Cam billing for corporate clients. They are going to email me a file & see how I do with it – so I'm really excited because I'll be coming into a ground floor opportunity in a new department.

Next we went back into Modiin & drove around the Givat C area, which is pretty much where we have decided we will start our Aliyah journey. We really liked the area, it's a bit older than the Buchman neighborhood, which means it's a bit greener. Plus it's less expensive.

We finally caught up with the Aliyah administer for the city, Cheri Albucher & opened an official file with her. Modiin is one of the cities that has an extra aliyah package for North American Olim. We would receive rent assistance for 6 months – an extra 5 months of Ulpan (language classes), there are special tutors available to help the boys with Hebrew instruction and homework assistance, plus there are special trips planned to different parts of the country, a host family is assigned to you to assist with any difficulties that come up in the first 6 months, etc, etc...

Now we are home in Rehovot with the Shames & getting ready to sit down for dinner. More tomorrow!

Friday February 29th
In the morning we hopped in the car & headed to Jerusalem. We are starting to feel more comfortable with the idea of getting around on our own. We had a reservation to do the Kotel tunnel tour. Under the temple mount is a series of archaeological excavations that have been connected together into a series of tunnels. Here you can see the original supporting temple wall all along the western side. Most of the area that you walk along was constructed during the second temple period (Herod's temple) over 2,000 years ago, though there are some areas of excavation that date all the way back to the 1st temple period (Solomon's temple) that are visible though Plexiglas panels in the walkway. It's really cool to be walking over these & look down to sections that were constructed around 950 bce. It's an incredible tour that really gives you a sense of history & awe.

Next we walked back into the old city & spent more time looking & shopping. We stopped & had Pizza at an outdoor cafe that was the very same place we had eaten at 10 years earlier.

We opted to head back early because we wanted to be back in Rehovot well before Shabbat candle lighting time.

We never heard back from Sherri Brin in Maale Adumim about a family to host us for Shabbat, so Jeff & Jill found families to host us in Rehovot & we attended services at Berman's Shul – which is the Anglo shul here in Rehovot.

The exciting news we learned when we returned to the Shames household was that their younger daughter Daniella had just gotten engaged to her dear friend Eiten Levy. The household was busy with much laughter and excitement & many phone calls & emails were going out touching family and friends.

Jill walked us over to the home of Steve and Emily Epstein. They are a family that made Aliyah from Toronto Canada just a year ago. They had two young daughters ages 4 and 9. They thought Isaac was the bomb & the night was filled with giggles and gales of laughter as they played with him and Ariel. Dinner was awesome – we started with sushi! Isaac was in heaven!
On the walk back to the Shames house afterwards we encountered a whole group of neighborhood teenagers hanging out at the park at the end of their block. We let Isaac joined them and in the morning we learned he made even more friends!

Saturday March 1st we found ourselves at Berman's Shul. It was a very warm and welcoming place. We met many many people, all very friendly & interested in hearing our tales. We met there the Millers, next door neighbors of the Shames who hosted us for luncheon. The Millers were friends of Jeff & Jill's in the states & made Aliyah about a year after them. We spent hours there talking about so many things, their Aliyah experiences, things we have in common, etc.. We were there so long at one point Jeff came over and checked on us, a couple of hours later Jill stopped over to see how things were going. They have 3 children still living at home, the youngest of whom was Ari's age – when we finally left Ari stayed to play with his newest friend Yonah.

We decided to make it an easy evening & instead of going out Motze Shabbat Jill popped in a dvd & we watched Peaceful Warrior. I highly recommend it (not about war or soldiers at all!)

Sunday March 2nd was a totally free day. We had no appointments & so we decided we would do something really fun with the boys. It was a beautiful warm sunny day & we decided to go to Caesarea Martina. We took highway 1 that runs between Jerusalem to Tel Aviv with the intention of then connecting in Tel Aviv with highway 2 which runs up the coast to Haifa. It's true that this is nowhere as wonderful as the highway 1 drive that goes from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Still any site of the sea thrills me and since this was the boys first exposure to any ocean at all I thought it would be a fun time for them. We stopped in Jaffa (Yaffo) and walked along the ancient seawall, managed to get lost in Tel Aviv & finally found ourselves on the way to Caesarea. Anyone who has ever seen the background picture on my work computer will recognize this place. It is an archaeological site on the coast about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. There is an amphitheater, a Hippodrome (field for chariot races), an ancient Governor's palace, a crusader fortress, the remains of the ancient Israeli city complete with mosaic floors, marble pillars and a large roman bath (public spa), a roman aqueduct, and – of course – the beach. It's a beautiful and fascinating place. There are many many things to see.

The sites are divided into three different sections. The southern most area is the aqueduct & is several miles down the coast from the rest of the site. We stopped there first & took in the amazing site of this 2000 year old architectural wonder stretching down the coastline for 10 kilometers. We had the opportunity to walk along the beach here. We all rolled up our pant legs & removed our shoes to walk along the shoreline as the tide was coming in. We picked up shells and stones, walked as deep into the water as our rolled up pants would allow & were reminded how amazing clear and warm the Mediterranean is.

The next section of the site is the Amphitheater. We parked here and paid an entry fee that also allowed us entry into the next (and larger) section of the site. This particular area closes at 5:pm – while the final section is open much later. It was about 4:ish when we arrived & so we dashed in to be able to see as much as possible before they kicked us out & locked the gates. The Amphitheater has been restored & is used even today for plays and concerts as weather allows. Beyond the amphitheater is a walkway with exhibits of marble pillars, statues, and ornately carved capitals, the walkway leads to a back gate that leads into the larger part of the archaeological park that is open later. The gate opens onto a wonderful view of the sea and governors palace which is on a promontory overlooking the entire area.

When we were ready to move onto this section of the park JDC went back to the parking lot to move the car to the parking section adjacent to the final section of the dig so that we wouldn't have to walk back the long way when we were through. At that time he discovered that the rear window behind the drivers seat had been smashed and our rented cell phone, his wallet & my purse (complete with my wallet & passport & 800 shekels) were stolen. However, he opted not to tell the boys and I yet because he didn't want to ruin our experience at the park. He told the guard who advised that the police department in Caesarea was already closed & that we would have to drive to Hadera (about 20 minutes southwest) to report the theft. He moved the car and entered the remaining section of the park while the boys & I (oblivious to the theft) worked our way through from the back.

The boys started on the beach area which is littered with shell pieces, they were looking for ... shells (I couldn't tell why they spent so much time digging through all the shells looking for more shells...) Next we walked the length of the Hippodrome and climbed up to the ancient city. When the boys saw all the pot shards they were fascinated & both managed to find curved handle portions that they thought unique and remarkable.
This is not an active dig, but a section of the dig site was left unfinished – a sample wall - so that you can see the layers of soil & pot shards, etc. marking the different time periods and how one layer is compressed upon another. JDC & I had been there 10 years earlier, but at that time it was still an active dig & the hippodrome had not yet been unearthed. Now there is much more to see. One thing I that really surprised me – on the sample wall I found small sections of bones interspersed here & there and even some teeth!

We walked through the roman bath area and caught up with JDC where he was taking pictures of the intricate brightly colored mosaic floors. By now it was getting late & we watched a glorious sunset all pink & golden as it slid into the ocean horizon. I wanted to finish the tour with a walk through the crusader castle but JDC was getting pretty antsy & finally told us about the robbery. It was very upsetting.

We piled in the car & found our way to Hadera police station with cold wind blowing in through that broken back window... Ari sat on Isaacs lap to stay out of the broken glass all over the seat – which we thought we should leave for the police and rental car company to see. (Neither seemed concerned with viewing the scene, nor took any pictures, nor dusted for prints, etc. - Nada). We finally got an interview with a police officer – she didn't speak much English & we ended up typing into the report in English the items we could remember stolen (so the body of the report is in Hebrew, but the list of stolen items is in English – very odd looking. We called the rental car company from the police station & they told us if we returned the car to the Ben Gurion location they would replace it with another car (that was one happy note here). We also called Pelephone to report the stolen cell phone – but a replacement was not offered for that. Then we called Jeff & Jill to explain what had happened & that we would be home late as we had to exchange the car when we were done at the police station. Unbeknown to us at the time, Jill immediately called an acquaintance of theirs who lives in Hadera to provide some assistance to us. Jeff & Jill do not know this man personally, but their daughter Daniella worked for him the previous year & so they had developed a warm contact through their daughter. About the time we were finished up with the procedures & were walking out of the station, the officer ran out & advised we had a phone call. Dr Jake Weinberg, who had no idea who we were, except that we were now friends of Jeff & Jill Shames of Rehovot, was calling to say – “please let me help you – I have some shekels I can give to make sure some of your expenses are covered..” He sent his assistant to the police station so that we could follow him back to Dr. Weinberg's office. From there Dr. Weinberg (“call me Jackie please!”) took us back to his lovely home, fed us a 4 course meal.. Packed us another meal of sandwiches, cake, chocolate bars & a bottle of coke & sent us on our way to Ben Gurion airport with 300 shekels in our hands (“no – no, I don't want any of it back – this is yours to use as you need!”). Such a sweet man! He made Aliyah 26 years ago & his wife is Israeli. They are well known for starting a not-for-profit agency in Israel that counsels and assists victims of terrorism. He made sure we had his email and asked to be kept updated on our Aliyah plans.

Next was the very cold & windy 45 minute drive to Tel Aviv to exchange the rental car. We had been very careful to get the insurance when we rented the car & were hopeful this would cover the damage to the car. No such luck.. we were shown (in the small print & in Hebrew) that there is a 450.00 deductible on the insurance policy that is our responsibility to cover (I would think that would be more than the cost to replace the window!). At this point we have not had to pay this because they don't know how much they will bill us until after the are billed by the repair shop. (Oh boy!)

We got another car & wearily drove back to Rehovot, arriving around 11:pm where we found Jill waiting up for us to hear all the details & reassure us that they would assist us to cover expenses. While we tried to start making some phone calls to cancel credit cards & find out how to replace my passport, Jill dashed off to the auto teller to withdraw funds to loan us. She came back with 1250.00 Shekels and then scrounged through her travel bags & came up with another 373.00 American dollars to boot.

Monday March 3rd
First thing in the morning we were on our way back to Tel Aviv, hoping we would be able to replace my passport at the American Embassy there. Traffic was horrible & it took us an hour to get there. We had heard some pretty scary tales about dealing with the Embassy & were pretty worried that I might not be able to fly home the next day. In order to enter the Embassy you have to stand in line (outside) & explain what you are there for to someone I will call a triage agent. We were warned ahead of time to make sure they knew 1) I am an American citizen. 2) My passport was just stolen. (i.e. It hasn't been missing for like a year!) and 3) I'm supposed to fly home tomorrow.
The triage agent advised we would need to go to the storefront next door where we could rent a secured slot to leave my purse, any cell phone or camera (course we didn't have a cell phone – it was stolen along with my passport!) and any other miscellaneous items unnecessary for obtaining a replacement passport. We had to pass though a security process as stringent as an airport's. Before we even entered the building they swabbed our hands with a sponge-like swab (dry) which they then took inside and tested (we later learned they were testing for explosive agents). JDC had to remove his belt & empty his pockets, etc.

Luckily, before we ever left the states JDC had made photocopies of all of our passports & I had packed these along with copies of everyone's birth certificates, and all of our Aliyah application paperwork. So the photocopies of my passport & birth certificate & the police report from Hadera went inside the Embassy with us. When we first got inside we encountered a large line of people in a hallway & I thought, Oh man this is going to take all day... (though we knew the Consul does not accept any appointments after 11:15 – so my worries grew). But immediately we were directed away from the line and through a set of double doors that advised “Citizen Services” (apparently the line was for non-citizens & went to another area of the embassy). We were directed down a narrow hallway that opened into a rather crowded room that looked disturbingly similar to a DMV office, with one side of the room banked by numbered service windows. The entrance to the room was greeted by a woman at a podium who acted as triage agent number two. She was also there to hear the reason for one's appearance & some people were turned away all together if they didn't have an appointment with the Consul. A woman and her mother, who were in line behind us at the first triage station had managed to get in line in front of us at this second triage station, had allowed her passport to expire 22 years earlier & now needed a new one immediately because she needed to return to the states urgently (good luck!) she did not have an appointment, but managed to manipulate herself into the room. Another gentleman had discovered his passport had expired 2 months earlier, though he had not been living outside of the U.S. (so he said – but I can't get this one to make sense since I know the U.S. Requires one's passport to be valid for 6 months after your departure date – so he had to have been out of the country for at least 8 months – If he hadn't been living outside the U.S all that time what had he been doing (perhaps he was in a coma???). It appeared most of the people in the waiting room were American couples getting passports for their newborn children. There were lots of babies present who are now dual citizens.
Finally my turn came & I explained my dilemma & had to confess that indeed I did not have an appointment with the Consul. The Embassy only takes calls between 11:00 and 12:30 and I did not know my passport was stolen until 5:30pm the day before. I must admit I felt pretty close to tears. However, triage agent number 2, who had been pretty tough in the previously mentioned encounters, was very kind & reassuring & let me know I shouldn't worry – I would indeed leave that day with an emergency passport – they were all there to help me. First however, we had to go get passport photos. She wrote down an address that looked to be a 20 minute walk from the Embassy & so we headed out – at the door the guard inquired where we were headed & when we told him, he advised that the storefront where we had rented the secured storage also did passport photos & we didn't need to walk as far. Back we went & obtained the photos, a 5 minute process, and then back through triage agent #1, swabbed again, inside & through security again (belt on, belt off, belt on, belt off LOL!), through the doors for Citizens services, down the hallway & presented ourselves, complete with photos to triage agent #2. She gave me forms to fill out & when I was done she sent me to window #4. I noted that there are no longer any lines at the windows by this time & most everyone is sitting down awaiting “stage 2”. No-one was at window #4 currently, so we stood there waiting & women with 22 year expired passport inserts herself in front of me, “May I just ask them a question first – I won't take but a minute”. Triage agent # 2 comes over to remove the woman who had obviously made a nuisance of herself in our brief absence. The agent at window #4 appears & the woman engages him, Agent at window # 3 arrives to see what all the fuss is about & Triage agent #2 explains the whole mess & the shuttles me over to window agent # 3 while she attempts to eject women with 22 year expired passport. The agent at window #3 wants to know if I had an appointment with the Consul. I had to admit no. Now apparently these windows are security-strength-bullet-proof-chemical agent-proof, and also sound proof, as she is speaking to me through a microphone (though it appears she can hear me quite fine & I don't have a microphone). So she very loudly informs me that she can't help me without an appointment until all the people who have an appointment have been helped. Of course everyone in the room (& perhaps the poor people still standing in line in the outer hallway who were not American citizens also!) heard this exchange & so I turned to the room offering my window to any who hadn't been helped (knowing there were 3 other windows that had available agents & if there was someone with an appointment who hadn't been helped why in the world were all those agents standing idle???). Triage agent #2 came to my defense, assuring window agent # 3 that everyone else deserving help had received it & it was indeed my turn. I presented all my paperwork & answered a series of security questions that were (I am sure) meant to determined if I was attempting to perpetrate some sort of fraud. Based on the other two case histories I presented I can understand why they would be suspicious of such a straight forward emergency.. apparently no-one comes that prepared! My credentials & tale of woe were found to be acceptable & I was sent to the cashiers window to pay the 100.00 replacement fee (Bless you Jill for your loan of American dollars!). We were then instructed to sit down to await stage # 2. While we were sitting there I finally took the time to look around the room. I like to watch people, see how they interact with each other, how they spend idle time, etc. – sitting one row ahead of us on the other side of the room was someone who looked exactly like Avi Silverman (Education & Community advisor – Nefesh B' Nefesh)! I looked at him, he looked at me. I thought to myself, “Is that really Avi – what in the world would he be doing here? After all, he works in Jerusalem & there is an Embassy there – why would he drive all the way across the country to come to an Embassy in Tel Aviv??” But he looked so much like Avi Silverman that I finally waved at him. Then I turned to JDC & said – “Is that Avi Silverman?” He looked & said – “wow, he really looks like Avi Silverman! But why would he be here?”
Finally he got up to walk over to the gentleman, who when he saw JDC rise, did the same – they greeted each other & shook hands. Sure enough, it was Avi Silverman. Astounding! Perhaps I need to explain why this is so pertinent to me. Avi is the person who will decide if and when we get to board a chartered Nefesh B' Nefesh flight. So he needs to be convinced that not only are we very serious about this, but that we also have a very realistic understanding of the difficulties we may encounter in the Land, and that we have to fortitude to be successful Olim. So here was an opportunity to show him, yes we were robbed, yes we were able to cope with the situation, and yes – we still want to be there with all our hearts.. Not that we couldn't make Aliyah without Nefesh B' Nefesh – but it would be much more difficult & more expensive. We were able to give a brief explanation to him about what had happened & to assure him we were undaunted in our determination to make Aliyah, that we had chosen & registered with a community, hired an attorney & were returning to the states with a renewed fervor to complete our preparations. Avi was then called for his stage #3 (interview with the Consul) and we were called for our stage #2 (provide proof of payment & confirm all the information submitted was correct). We returned to our seats to await stage #3. Avi, his wife & newborn baby had finished their business with the Consul & warmly took their leave of us – his final encouraging words were to keep in touch & let him know how our preparations were going. It didn't take long & we were called to window #6 which was around the corner from window #4. There we were greeted by the Consul himself. A smiling, warm gentleman who was very sympathetic and helpful. His manner was disarming (I'm sure on purpose!) & he quickly made us feel comfortable talking about ourselves, while he slyly slipped in his security questions “who was your 1st grade teacher” “what was your maiden name” “have you lived under any other names – say a previous married name” all the while he's mousing around on his computer checking me out on several different watch lists making sure I'm exactly who I say I am. Soon enough he is convinced and asks me to raise my right hand to take an oath avowing that everything I had reported was the truth. He signs my paperwork and hands me my emergency passport, which I then sign in his presence.

From the time we arrived at the Embassy, to the time of our departure, took about 90 minutes. I can have no complaints about our treatment at the American Embassy in Tel Aviv.

Next we had to rush back to Rehovot to retrieve the boys (whom we had wisely left “at home”), as we had a 1:30 appointment to see an apartment in Modiin.
We were running a little behind & so before leaving Rehovot we called and left a message for the tenants of the apartment with whom we were to meet. We raced to Modiin (have I explained that traffic laws in Israel are considered “suggestions” and that speed limits are rarely enforced?) By now we feel & drive like Israelis – weaving in & out of traffic in our tiny Daihatsu Sirion (which was actually a very cool car!). I am fulfilling my normal activity of interpreting the map & providing much needed directions. We arrive & ring the buzzer for #2 (I thought kindly of triage agent #2 who was my staunch supporter earlier in the day). The intercom voice advised us to enter the parking garage around the corner to our left and take the elevator to -3 (negative 3??). But we soon discover this is one of those apartments that is built using the hillside on which it was built. So the upper floors have access through the front and the lower floors have access through the rear elevator. The apartment was incredible. The main room was quite large (living/dining area) with one wall of windows looking out to the large backyard (yes – this apartment had it's own large yard!) The kitchen was also quite large and had full size American style appliances, off the kitchen was a laundry room separated by a glass pained door. The main floor also boasted a very large bathroom, 2 bedrooms (one with a balcony) and the required security room – which here was being used as the TV room. Down a broad staircase (there was a large storage area under the stairs) to another bedroom and a very large master bedroom which boasted a nice master bath and a walk in closet.. both rooms had the sliding door access to the backyard. The tenant advised she is renting it for 3800 shekels/month (about $1050.00) and it would be available in late May to mid June. The price was right, the time was right. But then she advised that in that particular neighborhood they had not felt the warm welcome they had felt in the Buchman area, we talked about the shul we planned to attend, and she advised we ought to keep looking, but focus down the hill closer to the shul, we'd be happier down there. I asked her if that was why they were moving & she said no – they had bought in the Buchman area. She also advised that about 10 people had inquired about & viewed the apartment, and the amount of interest had caused the owner (who lives in Jerusalem) to ponder if she charging too little. Chances are it might turn into a bidding war to get into the apartment. We thanked her for her time & determined that though it was beautiful, it was more than we needed & a little more than we really wanted to spend.

Next we piled back in the car & headed for Jerusalem again. By the time we arrived we had about an hour before our appointment with an attorney recommended to us by one of the Realtors in Modiin, so we headed for Ben Yehuda street. It was turning colder out by then – still it didn't stop us from parking & walking around a bit so the boys could get a flavor of the area. We found that they've opened a kosher Burger King right on Ben Yehuda street & it was a given that we had to stop there for dinner. They were the best hamburgers I can ever remember having.. probably because we were in Jerusalem & we were all just so happy to be in Israel.

In too little time we had to leave & so we struggled with the Jerusalem map that is so inaccurate (for some reason it reports streets where they don't exist & leaves off streets that do! - it was always getting us lost & so when we go back we will need to get a better Jerusalem map). Eventually we found the right address & were on time for our meeting with Mr. Areyeh Racklin. He came to us highly recommended as someone who could assist us in completing a lease transaction on an apartment while we are out of country (i.e. In the states) so that we will have a place waiting for us when we make Aliyah. We signed power of attorney papers with him & have every confidence it was the proper next step in our process.

One final appointment for the day. Isaac has a friend who lived only two blocks from us in Kansas, Josh Gotteiner. Josh has been studying at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem called Ohr Sameach since last August. So we tracked Josh down & went to dinner with him at a Pizza restaurant not to far from his Yeshiva. We had a wonderful visit – met many of his classmates, talked all about his experiences and ours & in general had a great time catching up. He will be returning to Kansas next June – just in time to say goodbye to us before we Aliyah.

Finally we head home to Rehovot for the last time & got in the door about 11:pm. Once again, Jill is waiting up for us to hear the story of our day & find out if we are indeed leaving the next morning (couldn't leave without a passport!) So we told her the whole story & she was amazed at how smoothly it all went. We talked & enjoyed each others company for a little while & must have been loud enough to wake Jeff because he also came down & spent a little time with us. They we hugged and said our goodbyes & they went up to bed. We laid the boys down on the couch to sleep with a couple of borrowed blankets. JDC & I went to work organizing & packing up all our stuff – repacking the boys suitcases, & finally about 2:am after a final walk through we determined all items were packed & accounted for. We loaded the car (I must admit we were pretty concerned that we would get all that luggage in the little tiny car – but it all fit with a little creative arranging). We hustled the boys into the car & headed to the airport.

We arrived about 2:45 at the car rental return area & were relieved to learn we had enough cash on hand to pay for the rental car. Normally it would have been charged to our bank card – but we had already managed to close those out & so that was no longer an option. They advised they would contact us in the states when they had a report from the repair shop regarding the cost of the window replacement. Next stop was the main terminal to turn in the charger & pouch that came with the cell phone. We were not surprised to learn we were now obligated to pay for the cell phone itself. But the agent took pity on us & only charged us for the cost of the phone itself & not the original contract amount for the phone rental and 1st set of minutes – so in the long run it didn't cost us that much more than what we would have paid if we hadn't had the phone stolen at all. In the unlikely event the phone is recovered they will contact us – because we now own it. All in all we left Israel with about 200 shekels and 52.00 dollars. We owed the 200 Shekels to Sandi as she had loaned us seed money to start our trip – not knowing if we would need to catch a cab when we first arrived.

The remainder of the trip home was uneventful. We found our gates & got through security at Ben Gurion, boarded the plane for Vienna & had a wonderful meal in-flight. JDC & the boys slept quite a bit, I had a very lively conversation with an Israeli who was living in the states. I think he found the idea of all these American Jews making Aliyah fascinating, but he was also encouraged because I told him – I understand, you have been at the forefront of the battle for so long. You're tired and frustrated & frankly just can't hold the land alone anymore. So now it's our turn. And maybe, since we are coming with different ideas and mindsets regarding government, maybe we can gather enough people and enough power, and enough money, maybe – if we work hard, we can effect a change. I know I am certainly going to try. In the end he was very encouraged, he said, when it's better let him know & they'll come back. I agreed. By then we were landing in Vienna. He shook my hand and JDC's as we deplaned. He said he was glad we were making Aliyah. In Vienna we went through security again & boarded the flight to Chicago. (I didn't see the Israeli gentlemen on the next flight – so he must have had a connection to New York.) This was the longer flight & seating was pretty crowded. We had individual monitors at each seat so that we could watch movies, but of course the row Ari & I were sitting in was non-functional. I managed to find another seat for him to sit in so he could watch some movies, and then I moved also to an open seat that had a functional screen. We had cleared this with the stewardess – unfortunately, she didn't keep track of the situation & even though I was only 1 row up and 1 seat over, my kosher meal was delivered to another person who ate it with relish & didn't mention that he had not ordered a kosher meal. Luckily, Ari did not finish his & so again between the three meals, we had enough food for 4 people. I even managed to get a little sleep on this flight – though when I woke up my legs were numb from the thigh down & my ankles were beginning to swell because when I reclined the back of the seat it raised the front of the seat & my feet no longer reached the floor. Finally we had another meal (the stewardess made sure they were delivered to the right people this time) and shortly thereafter we landed in Chicago. Here we had to collect all our luggage again and schlep it through security. Then onto the tram with all our heavy carry-ons to terminal 1 to catch the flight to KC. Before boarding I was able to get my cell phone turned on & confirm that my daughter Chavi was picking us up at the airport. I then learned that most likely Sandi might be there too – but I was just happy to know we wouldn't have to take a cab home! Finally we boarded – wow, back in the states it was an amazing transition. The plane to KC was much smaller, but the leg room was enormous in comparison. The plane was only half full & so though we had been assigned seats in the very last row (which don't recline) the stewardess moved us up to row 7 (which had been completely empty!). She was very warm & friendly and chatted & laughed with us & the other passengers the whole flight.

At last on the ground again in KC, Sandi & Julie were there to great us with great warm hugs and broad smiles. We were all talking a mile a minute to catch up on our trip & all that had happened while we were away. The laugh here was that JDC's suitcase did not arrive on our flight – even though we had checked it in ourselves! The baggage agents advised they would track it down and call us as soon as they had news. The boys rode into town with Sandi – I rode with Julie & JDC rode with Chavi (he wanted to go to a choir practice & so this worked out best as the boys & I didn't have to sit & wait for him). The rest of us ended up at David & Julie's where we sat down for a quick meal & talked more. Then Sandi got us home & I pushed the boys into bed & I dropped exhausted into mine. I was out long before JDC got home from choir.

We spent all the next day calling and closing out credit card accounts, working with our bank for the best way to handle the missing checkbook (we put a block on all internationally processed checks), put fraud alerts on the 3 credit reporting agencies in case our drivers licenses, social security cards & my passport would be used for identity theft. Happily JDC's bag arrived – though now it was also damaged – leading us to the conclusion that it was United that had probably damaged our bags – not Lufthansa. We still need to get a claim filed with them. Also, we still have to go into the DMV to replace our drivers licenses & go to social security to replace everyone's cards. But most everything is now dealt with & soon replacement cards will be arriving in the mail.

So the trip is over & everything is almost normal, except us that is. Somehow the trip made us more determined, more motivated than ever before. I don't want to get back to normal, I just want to get done with all our preparations so that we can get back home – to Israel. Only the trip is over, the journey has just begun!

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