Thursday, September 18, 2008

Baby Steps

Baby Steps

Finally we land, our customs business is processed on the plane & after what seems like forever we are able to disembark. There is a joyous crowd with flags and camera to greet us, we shuttle to the terminal where yet another crowd awaits us singing and dancing. Inside we get sandwiches and drinks & find a seat. I see several familiar faces, Avi Silverman and Rachel Goldwag with NbN, Yishai Fleisher from Arutz Sheva is there, Avi Zimmerman from the community of Ariel. I found out later that this was the largest crowd to meet any one Aliyah flight & though several of our friends in the land had wanted to come greet us, there was a limit to how many people were allowed to attend. But it didn't really dampen the experience because I know I'll see everyone soon enough. Just being here is enough of a high. Anyone who watched the arrival ceremony will see how JDC got up & danced for joy. There were wonderful speeches & we learned that one Olim on the plane was an 88 year old woman who had attempted Aliyah twice before – once just before WW2 and once on the famous ship Exodus that was turned away from the land in 1947 by the British. It was a great thing to see her finally accomplish her dream. Made my 10 year journey seem very short.

Finally all the guests were asked leave & we make our way into the area where we are to pick up our luggage. JDC goes upstairs and gets a copy of our Teudah Oleh, which provides temporary identification until we get our citizenship identification. Meanwhile the boys and I stage ourselves around two huge luggage carousels. There were 220 Olim on the plane – but it looked like there was enough luggage for 600 people! It took over an hour for all the luggage to come off the plane. But everyone was very helpful – pulling luggage for their neighbor, helping to identify pieces – there was a real feeling of camaraderie as we all faced a new life. Everyone going to a different city, people exchanging email and addresses if they had them. It took two taxis to transport us and our 18 bags! Now here is another lesson I learned. Our taxi drivers did not speak English. We had been warned that we should go to Yissachar street – between numbers 9 & 11 and walk down to our flat, but we couldn't get the drivers to understand. They had already had to make an extra stop for us to pick up the key from the home of our buddy family, when we got to 30 Shivte Yisrael & saw we had about 6 flights of stairs to cart our luggage up, the drivers refused to take us around the corner to the next block up, or to help us cart our luggage. We should have made sure our NbN helpers at the airport communicated all these things clearly to the drivers before we left with them. Regardless – we schlepped the luggage up. There was an elevator that cut out about ½ the journey – but we were exhausted when we reached the top. Still our flat is beautiful. We got the luggage carted up to the bedrooms & I set about cleaning so that we (at least me) would be more comfortable. We figured out the AC, were thrilled that we could get Ice and cold water out of the fridge door, and that there were a few dishes in the house. We were pretty forlorn to discover we had no sheets, pillows, pots & pans or silverware. But, never fear, this is Israel. I manage to get on the internet by pirating on a neighbor's wireless network & put out an email on the Modiin list asking to borrow some items & by the next day we had sheets & pillows on all the beds, some sorely needed hangers, meat pots, a large Shabbat water urn (we were able to make coffee – yeah!!), some disposable bowls and a few food items. JDC & Ari walked over to the neighborhood grocery & bought some milk, a little cereal, and some bread. Our neighbors came over & introduced themselves, others came by and gave us more cereal & some sugar. Overall the community gave us a huge welcome. They even helped us get our phone working! JDC took the bus & then the train into Tel Aviv Wednesday afternoon and rented a car. We got a great rate on a month long rental, a special rate for new Olim. Much cheaper than I found anywhere on the Internet or calling several other local companies. We rented a Daihatsu Sirion, just like the last time we were in Israel, it's a great little car. Great gas mileage, lots of cubbies for maps and snacks and water. The boys had lots of space in the back – though it looks like the size of a breadbox from the outside (sorry not meant to be a commercial, but if we can manage to buy a car here – that will probably be the one we buy).

By Friday morning we had managed to buy two cell phones. The contracts here are much friendlier than in the states. The commitment is only for 8 months, and even then you can change any component within that time frame without resetting the completion date. The phones were free with the contract. After the 8th month you can continue with the same arrangement as long as you desire, or, again, you can change any component you want. They have a plan where you can add an extra 100 minutes for only 9 shekels for calls to 3 designated numbers. Anyway – between the rental car & the cell phones we now feel more integrated into society. We went to the mall, we went to the drug store, we found a local shuk and bought Shmita fruits & vegetables. (I learned how to handle Shmita produce during our February pilot trip.) We asked a woman in the market to recommend laundry detergent & dishwasher soap. The dishwasher soap turned out to be an American product – Finish power balls.

Friday night we walk to the home of Victor and Sharon Fishman for Shabbat Dinner. Our Buddy family has made meal arrangements for us this first Shabbat, even though they are in Prague. Turns out Victor Fishman is the brother of Brenda Ganot whom we met & had a movie night with at her house last spring on our Pilot trip! The Ganots are neighbors to Barbara & Lorne Brown in Beit Shemesh. We had to laugh. In America there is something we recognize as “7 degrees of separation”. Usually by tracing thru 7 people that are connected to each other in some way you will find a common connection to someone who appears to be a complete stranger. Well in Israel – at least among the Anglo Olim – there are only 2 degrees of separation. Somehow everyone we are meeting is somehow connected to someone else we already know. So we were not so surprised to discover that the Bar-Mitzvah we had attended last spring when we visited Modiin, was none other than the Bar-Mitzvah of one of the Fishman's sons – Dani. Another odd coincidence is that directly behind the Fishmans lives the daughter of Cantor Shron of KI in Overland Park. Sure enough when we went to Shul Saturday we ran into Cantor Shron, he & his wife are visiting their daughter in Modiin!

Saturday luncheon after shul was at the house of Jerry & Ileana Glazer, who had us for Shabbat Dinner last spring. This time their older son Yoni was there & a cousin Rafi, both of whom are a bit older than Isaac. Also invited for lunch were the Alperts who had hosted us in their home last spring over Shabbat weekend & were so helpful. So we remade old connections & the boys both stayed after we left & hung out, making old friends new again & connecting to more they had not met before.

Shabbat was wonderful, and reminded us again why we chose Modiin, not only is it a most beautiful city, but also the community here is so warm and welcoming. We don't feel isolated or lonely, even though we moved all the way across the world from everything familiar.

Sunday we had an appointment in Jerusalem with Nefesh B' Nefesh. So glad that we had rented the car, we pulled out our maps & headed out. For whatever reason, all the maps we have of Modiin & across the country all are pretty accurate, but the maps of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are practically worthless. I think it is because after these maps were printed many of the street names were changed. So we're driving in the city & know we need to turn right or left into such & such street to get to our destination, and it simply doesn't exist! Eventually we stop and ask someone & they say “oh – you just go that way & turn there & then take your first left & you've arrived.” They make it sound so easy! Anyway, we do find our way to the NbN offices, and are ushered downstairs to a large room filled with Olim. All around the edges of the room are booths hosted by banks, health care agencies, newspapers, cellphone companies &etc. Over in the corner is a glass door leading into a smaller room, this is where NbN reps have the final citizenship paperwork for each Olim family on our flight. We fill out a form, turn it in & soon enough it is our turn. There we receive our Teudah Zahut, we are now officially citizens of Israel. In 1 year we can apply for an Israeli passport. We also receive our much needed grant money from NbN, and the stipend that was promised to reimburse us $100.00 per person transportation costs from Kansas to New York. While at the event, we connected again with another family we met, the Goldmans, who had a son Isaac's age. They were staying temporarily with the husband's sister in Beit Shemesh, and were settling in Efrat. Their son, Noam, came home with us, and the boys had an afternoon of computer games with a friend while JDC & I ran errands, got our check cashed & picked up a pizza to eat for dinner.

Later in the day we returned Noam to his temporary home in Beit Shemesh & met more of the family. Turns out that the Husband's sister, Lisa, had lived in Israel 22 years, and her husband had been here 31 years! They of course know everyone we know in Beit Shemesh & loan us the English Beit Shemesh phone book. So we put phone numbers of all our local acquaintances into our cell phones & made contact, or left messages on our way out of Beit Shemesh.

An added note to all you who gave us Tzedakah in the US, we met a man while we were in Beit Shemesh, obviously observant, whose baby was ill, the family was in need. So that is where your tzedakah (& some of ours) went. The family will be able to make a nice Shabbat & meet some other expenses because of your help! Many many blessings were showered upon us all.

Monday we met with Cherie Albucher, our Modiin rep with the department of absorption. She met us at the city hall and helped us to enroll the boys for school. We had a long discussion with her, & through her interpretation with the lady who was enrolling the boys, regarding what grade Isaac would be entering. We had wanted to have him repeat 8th grade so that he would have a full year of Hebrew under his belt before he needed to worry about Bagrut exams. But they were of the opinion that because he was almost 15 (not till December!) that he should be entering 10th grade. I finally convinced them he had not even attended 9th grade in the US. The end result is that we will have to let the school decide. Next week we are to contact Aviva Horowitz, whom we met with last spring at the Yeshiva High School. She will help us work thru the issues & then she will decide which grade he will enter. I was very impressed with her before & feel confident that she will decide based on what is best for Isaac. She has a lot of experience dealing with new Olim coming into her school, and really knows more about the issues than we do. Ariel was enrolled in 4th grade at Mamad Buchman, which I am told may be meeting in the building right next door to the Yeshiva High School. We really lucked out on our apartment rental in so many ways – or rather I should say that Ha Shem had it all planned, because the high school is only 1 block up from Yissachar. All the streets in Modiin have paths that walk thru the middle of the neighborhood. So the guys will just have to walk the path from Yissachar to Reuven to be at school. I imagine, since we are so close, and we have 4 computers in the house (well, at least 3 working), that we will have many afternoons where we will have guests come home from school with either of the boys (and by then our lift will be here with the PS3 also! Oh boy!)
After we enrolled the boys, Cherie stayed with us & helped us to register for our Arnona. In Israel, every city charges a tax based on your residence. Since renters have all the benefits of tenancy, they also pay this real estate tax that is charged by the city. New Olim get a 50% discount on the bi-monthly Arnona for the 1st 6 months. We had to provide a copy of our lease, and of course our Teudah Oleh, and our Teudah Zahut. Luckily we have the cash on hand & pay the 520 shekels for the 1st two months.

Next we went to the bank to open an account. While we had been at NbN in Jerusalem we had talked with reps from several different banks, plus others in the community had made suggestions that led us to chose Discount bank. In Israel banking is not like in the states. In the US everyone offers free checking, and the only time you pay a service charge is if you use your ATM card at someone else's machine. But in Israel every transaction costs something. It even costs to make a deposit. Plus, they don't have debit & credit cards like we are used to. All the credit cards are tied to your bank account, technically there are no Debit cards. So when you use the card they issue, it will create a balance due that is settled up once each month, and you pay interest on it, plus a fee! This bank we chose offers new account openers less fees and charges for the first year, free checks (as many as you want to order the first year) and free online banking. Of course you cannot pay bills online from the English website. But most of the utility companies actually take a draw right out of your checking account, and then send you an invoice to show you what they took. So you have to have a bank account before you can even register these in your name. At the store you write a check, or use the credit card. We have not been here long enough to understand how all this will work out, so I am sure you will all read more about this in the months to come!

Overall it took about 3 hours to open the account. We signed a bunch of papers & finally deposited funds. We keep some of the papers with us everywhere we go because it has our bank account number on it & so when we have to sign up for something we have the account number. Checks will arrive at the bank next Monday or Tuesday & we will have to go in to pick them up. The credit card will arrive in the mail sometime next week & the pin a couple of days later.

Oh – let me tell you about the mail box here! As one would expect in an apartment complex, all the mailboxes are in one group at the entrance to our area (ours happens to be next to the parking garage off Yissachar). In the group of keys we received for the apartment is supposed to be a mailbox key, but nothing we received fit (we have more keys than we can figure out where they go to – finally we figured out several went to the storage area & just two days ago I learned one goes to the little half gate entrance onto our front patio [most everyone else has full size, & very beautiful, doors]). I emailed the landlord & the previous tenants regarding the mailbox. The landlord advised they had never had a key & just used to reach their hand into the little slot & pull out their mail, but they replied they thought the previous tenants had a key made. I determined that this must be the key that looks like it should fit – but doesn't. The funny thing to note is that the mailbox is crammed full of an old phone book, advertising circulars & who knows what else. We mentioned it to our buddy family & Chen laughed & said yeah, they just popped theirs open & left it unsecured. After being told that I noted that other mailboxes in our group were either missing the lock completely, or the lock was turned permanently open. Guess we will have to do the same for ours as calling a locksmith to make a key will be extravagantly expensive & there is no guarantee the key we get will even work!

After setting up the bank account we went to the post office to register for the free national health care. One thing I must mention here, that has happened everywhere we have gone. Each time we encounter an Israeli with whom we absolutely must communicate we apologize, “sorry lo davar ivrit, Anglit bevakasha?” If they can they help us in English, or find someone who can. We then advise we are Olim Chadashim (new olim) and the response is always “How wonderful! Blessings on you!” (of course in Hebrew!). But I am amazed at how happy the Israelis are that we have come. Rather than seeing us as infiltrators, or a nuisance, they are honestly happy to help us. Our experience at the post office was not different. The women kindly filled out all the paperwork & took the time to explain everything. We paid the small one time fee & were given proof that we were registered for the free health care, we now needed to chose which health agency would provide that health care.

We had learned from others in our community here that Maccabi is the best provider in the is area. So going on that advice we went over across the way to the Maccabi building right across the parking lot. But they were already closed for the day.

Tuesday morning we met again with Cherie Albucher. This time in her office, to register for the klita benefits available from the city of Modiin (discount on rents in the form of two checks thru the year as reimbursement for the amount of the discount, ulpan & extra study support for the boys, etc.) Cherie gave us a form to have stamped at the bank, so our rent assistance could be deposited directly into our bank. We were to return the form to her after we had obtained the stamp. Then she registered us for the klita program which will also include events to assist us meeting other olim, seeing the country & seminars to help us with all kinds of things – NbN will also have events and seminars for us. Next we walked with her over to the national absorption office and registered the boys for an Ulpan that starts next week, and one that will run through the school year. Then we registered ourselves for Ulpan, which will (hopefully) start in September, but they have to let us know. They must have 25 people enrolled in order to offer it here locally. Cherie advised she didn't anticipate there being a problem, and that she would contact us as soon as she knows when & where the classes will meet. (here is one of the times that we see the benefit of settling in Efrat – they have an incredible Ulpan program – we ourselves saw 3 classes meeting last spring.) Oh sigh.

We swing by the bank & get our form signed & return it to Cherie's office & opt to return home for lunch.
While at home we start the long process of contacting the Cable/Internet provider to get connected. Previous recommendations had encouraged to chose YES – which is a satellite provider, rather than HOT, which is a DSL provider. So JDC spends hours on the phone with them & then we start exchanging emails to get all the details worked out. Our contact, Rose, was very sweet and advised she would try to get us scheduled for Thursday. So we figure if we can get registered at Maccabi that afternoon then we would have Wednesday free & maybe we could schedule a trip to Beit Guvrin (the bell caves) just south of Beit Shemesh. So we hurry back to the shopping area where the post office and Maccabim are, but it is 5:30 by the time we get there. The woman, once she learns we don't speak Hebrew, basically turns us away, she gives us all the forms & tells us to have a neighbor help us fill them out, but that they close in 30 minutes & she has a baby to pick up & there just isn't enough time. She doesn't look at all happy, so we take the forms and leave.

Wednesday morning before we can head out the door to Maccabi the phone rings. It's Rose at YES, and she informs us she can get us hooked up that day. Okay, shift Beit Guvrin to Thursday, we'll do YES in the AM and Maccabi in the afternoon. We wait several hours & finally the workers call & show up. Of course they speak almost no English, so we struggle through the details with them. When they finally realize we are renters, no owners, they advise we have to get written permission from the owner. Okay, so I emailed our Landlord in NY and ask for his permission, with the details about how and most likely where the mini-dish would be installed. We all wait for a while, but seeing how it is not the same time in NY as it is in Israel it is unlikely we're going to get an immediate reply from NY. So the workers leave & tell us that Rose will be in touch. By now it is well afternoon, so we eat some lunch & head out to Macabbi. Today it is a better day & the woman who helps us is very sweet. Again expressing amazement that we would make Aliyah from America, she is happy to fill out forms & even helped us get an Internet password to the Maccabi website. It took about 30 minutes & suddenly we even have dental & vision insurance (this proves to be important almost immediately). On the way home we make contact with someone who I've been communicating on the Modiin list, Sue and her family made Aliyah to Beit Shemesh several years ago & just moved to Modiin last month. She had a bunch of sheets to give us, so we can work on returning the ones we borrowed. She's home & so we stop in & make yet another new friend as she has us sit down for cookies & to chat about Aliyah and life in the land.

Thursday we again hear from YES, but this time we have the required permission from our Landlord in the form of an email, which I forward along to Rose. Soon enough the workers arrive, but by then JDC is on the phone with HP Israel trying to find out where to take his non-functioning laptop (one of the two new ones we purchased specifically to bring to Israel). The YES workers are on their cell phones with the home office & the next thing we know they tell us they have to leave. They aren't installing a dish, the directive is that one dish needs to be installed to service the whole complex (even though many of our neighbors already have mini-dishes of their own), Rose will call us. The workers leave & JDC determines from his phone call we need to drive into Tel Aviv to drop his computer off. Before we leave I start a campaign to do laundry as the 9 days of Av are just around the corner & I want to get all the borrowed sheets washed so I can return them (Observant Jews don't do laundry during the 9 days). Finally we decide to head towards Tel Aviv (Bet Guvrin is again put off). We decide to take advantage of the trip to Tel Aviv and plan to visit a beach. I look on the internet and find a beach that advises it is used by modest dressers and is family oriented, rather than a more conservative beach where men and women swim on separate days. We all change into appropriate swim attire under our street clothes, grab our few towels and head out. Halfway down the street JDC realizes he left his computer behind & we swing back around & pick it up. By now it is after 4 pm and we get caught in the traffic jam into Tel Aviv. But the AC is working, the music on the radio is a nice mix between modern Israeli and classic American rock, so in all we enjoy the drive (except Isaac who decided going to the beach with his family was totally lame). Finally we arrive in Tel Aviv, struggle with the map & at last find the computer shop authorized by HP Israel to do warranty work on JDC's laptop. We find a convenient place to sit in the car (running in case a policeman, or angry shop owner shoos us away because we are blocking reserved parking) and JDC runs down the street to the shop. He's gone quite some time, but finally returns without his laptop. He advised the shopkeeper didn't want to take his computer because technically they were already closed, but taking that good advice to be feisty, JDC insisted & got a receipt for leaving the laptop, and a promise to call on Sunday for a followup. Now we wind our way in & out of traffic, trying to follow that darn map again to find our way to the beach. Finally we find the park that is next to the beach & sure enough there is secure parking, we pay 20 shekels for all day (though by now it is well after 5pm. We have carefully planned our trip so that nothing of value need stay in the car & still nothing of great value needs to accompany us to the beach (& what we do have is buried in the bottom of a plastic bag). We rent 2 chaises and an umbrella for 30 shekelem and JDC & Ari and I quickly run into the water (Isaac is not interested). We start to instruct Ari how best to enjoy wading in the ocean. You must wade out far enough that the waves do not break before they pass you. Then you can jump and float through the swell & it's quite pleasant. The water is very warm & the breeze is quite cool, there are children laughing and playing in the sand and wading in the shallows. Over all it is idyllic. Ari gets caught a few times by some rough waves, he's not out far enough & gets rolled pretty hard. That's not a pleasant experience. So I turn & start to wade towards him, concerned. Sure enough I get caught by a pretty big wave and my glasses are blown right off my face. Gone. Oh well, glad we've got insurance! More instruction, more tossing & Ari is ready for a break, he & I go back to our seats and grab some water. I sit down to enjoy the sun & breeze & Ari runs back out to the surf. Meanwhile JDC is convinced if he just keeps looking for my glasses they will magically appear at his feet (Not!). After a bit I see that Ari has strayed down from JDC quite a ways, who is looking for my glasses & not watching the boy. So I convince Isaac to be the good big brother & go keep on eye on Ari, who is still a small guy & pretty inexperienced in the art of ocean swimming. Tricky ploy, as really Ari is fine, but it gives Isaac a reason to gracefully enter the water without having to admit his parents might have had a good idea bringing him to the beach. We take turns in the water & stay until sunset. It was wonderful, even Isaac had a great time. And we managed to get the boys a real beach experience (instead of just dipping their toes like last spring) before the 9 days are upon us.

Friday we have our first Shabbat dinner at home. We had found (huge!) chickens on sale at Supersol and managed to make quite a nice diner even with our less than adequate supply of cooking pans & utensils. Dinner around the coffee table (remember we have no dining table!) was filled with happy conversation, and talk about the next day's activities. JDC had been invited by Ande of our buddy family to attend another shul in the area (most of the women don't attend & the woman's section is less than appealing), so the plan was that the boys & I would attend (again) the Ashkenaz shul & meet up with JDC at the Harkov's for lunch. Shul in Israel ends around 11:00am unless there is a special Simcha, & being the 1st of Av, there would not be one that day. We were not expected until 12:00. Isaac took off with friends right after shul & I asked him twice if he would be able to find the address (“Yes Ima!” - can't you hear him saying it?? LOL). Ari & I dawdled on our walk & stopped at a couple of parks & playgrounds & still got to our buddy family's home 30 minutes early. (Still better than walking all the way up the hill home, waiting 10 minutes & then walking back!) Another family joined us, the Mermelsteins from across the street & close friends of the Harkovs. Soon everyone arrived except Isaac. We opted not to wait any longer & sure enough he did not show up until dessert! The Harkovs had just returned from a vacation in Prague & had all kinds of interesting stories to tell. They had also visited Theresienstadt and told sad and disturbing tales about their visit there. It was an appropriate way to spend the 1st of Av. We all speculated about the increase of antisemitism in western Europe, and all agreed (we all being Olim) the need to ensure Israel as a home land and haven for Jews.

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