Thursday, September 18, 2008

The First Year is the Hardest

I hope everyone is enjoying my new site. All the previous posts were copies of my journal published previously through email.

I'm sure everyone is eager for new information, so I am sitting down on a Thursday afternoon to write a new post.

The boys have been in school/Ulpan since the 1st of September. John David & I started Ulpan a week later. For those of you new to the subject, Ulpan is Hebrew Language classes offered free of charge to all new Olim (immigrants). It is a benefit paid for by the state of Israel. Here they are serious about the language. In the US we had as many Spanish speakers as we did English speakers. There were English classes available to foreign immigrants, however I never had the impression there was a big push to get people enrolled. Here in Israel you are asked in the first week to enroll in Ulpan. You are told when, where, and how often to attend. Of course there are many, many English speakers in Israel. One could live in Israel without speaking Hebrew, but it would be difficult. All the government forms are in Hebrew, the utility bills are in Hebrew, your banks statement is in Hebrew, even school is taught in Hebrew, (unless you enroll - and pay! - for your children to attend a special English speaking school. I know of one in Jerusalem, it is rather expensive.) Here it is expected that you should learn the language of the land. (I hear and see my Hebrew teacher, Shulamit, saying that in my head!) It does not have to be your primary language, and there are many many Israeli's who will want to practice their English with you, but you should be able to at least speak and read the basics.

John David and I are very fortunate. We have a fabulous Hebrew teacher, and a great class. There are 4 other Americans in the class, one couple from Russia, one couple from Brazil, 2 people from Holland (not a couple), one gal from Argentina (she is a diplomat by trade - impressive), one couple from England, and 2 couples from Durban, South Africa.

Let me add a side bar here: We have met a lot of people from South Africa. They are Anglos, like us, and we find we have a lot in common with them. Many of them are here, not only as a matter of religious choice, but also because South Africa has become a very dangerous place to live. In my isolated, comfortable life in the States, I never knew or thought about the plight of white Jews in Africa. It appears that since the overthrow of Apartheid (not that I, nor anyone I know personally, supported it), the incidence of random violence against white (simply because they are white) in especially South Africa has skyrocketed. Our friends liken it to a frog in a pot of cold water. Put it on the stove and slowly increase the heat. The frog will not notice it is being cooked until it is too late. Violence against whites has grown in like measure there. Not only can you not let your children outside to play, you must have a large defensible wall around your property to keep safe inside your own home!

Back to Israel.
Despite my fears that I would not be able to learn Hebrew - I am. It is wonderful. I think even John David is surprised with my progress. Whereas, he has been working hard & teaching himself to speak it for years now, I have always put him off. I've told him, truthfully, how hard it was for me to retain the material if I only had instruction for an hour or so each week. I really needed a setting where I was able to focus most of my time and energy on the language. My theory has proven itself to be true. We are in class from 8:30 till 12 or 12:45 each day, Sunday through Thursday. There is no class on Friday so that we can prepare for Shabbat, and of course no class on Shabbat itself. Most afternoons when we get home we spend a minimum of another hour or two on homework. And I am getting it, I am reading, and writing, and speaking it. I probably sound like a 2 year old, but I am getting there!

Both boys start Ulpan at 8:00, their Ulpan meets in the grade school that Ari is enrolled in (which is just a block from our home). Their Ulpan gets over around noon, and Ari goes downstairs to his regular classroom and has school for another hour or two (depending on the day). Isaac walks next door to the Yeshiva (which is simply what they call the upper school here - he has both religious & secular studies there) and attends class normally until around 4:30. Our Ulpan meets at his school.. so we are all close & can pop in & see each other if the need arises.

The Yeshiva is a raucous and joyous and serious place all at once. The hallways are filled with ping pong tables. Between each class the boys (yes, it's an all boys school) have time to socialize, play ping pong, go to one of the many restaurant style cafeterias within the building, go outside to hang out, play ball, play volleyball (netball here), walk down to the macholet (local grocery shop), etc etc etc. When our class first started there used to be a local radio station broadcasting between classes on the school intercom. However, since our Ulpan started they have turned that off because we don't break at the same time as the boys do, and the office couldn't figure out how to turn off the speakers in our Ulpan classrooms. I am sorry for that - I liked the atmosphere that it presented for the boys. I liked the idea that school was a place for not only some really really serious learning, but also someplace that a teenage boy would like to hang out. I hope that when Ulpan ends (in 4 months) they get the radio back. I also hope that the radio gets turned back on in the afternoons (I don't know as I always have to hurry home to be there for Ari and his friends who often come over) I must remember to ask Isaac.

Isaac, by the way, is having a fabulous time. He is the main reason for our coming to Israel now. He has so many friends, he is very popular, he is learning and growing and loving the whole experience. It confirms that we made the right choice for him and for us. Last week the Yeshiva held a celebration one evening. It turns out that the yeshiva has been in existence for 10 years. It moved into it's current building at the beginning of the 2007 school year. Finally, at the beginning of this school year it was given confirmation that this building was to be it's permanent home (the building itself was new last year). There was a concert, refreshements, and fireworks. JDC & I listened to the music and watched the fireworks from our mirpeset (patio). We imagined Isaac participating, dancing, laughing, hanging out and having a great time. (he confirmed he did). We said to ourselves, "This, afterall, is why we came".

I suppose I have to mention that I believe the secret to our great success in settling in here so well, the comfort level we feel, is because of Modiin itself. It is a beautiful city. It is like Overland Park (our home city) in so many ways. It is clean and modern. The city itself is less than 10 years old, yet already it has a population of 70,000 plus (compared to Overland Park's 150,000 - Modiin feels like a smaller, newer version). There are lots and lots of Anglos here, I encounter them everywhere, share an email service with them (no end to the daily English email interaction!), run into them at the macholet, the mall, the post office. Plus the benefits of not being a minority is amazing. Here kosher food is everywhere, kosher restaurants flourish (in OP we had only 1, a kosher Subway). And unlike other communities of similar size here in Israel, we have 2 movie theatres and a bowling alley, in addition to a new mall comparable to any mall we had in the Midwest. In every neighborhood there is a little shopping area with all kinds of quaint and unique shops.. the only thing I have been hankering for that is not in Modiin is a fabric store. But I know where there are a bunch in Jerusalem (which is only 30 minutes away!), and my lift (with my sewing machine - and all our other worldly goods for that matter) is still in Kansas - so I can't sew anyway. Patience patience - everything has it's season. And, let me add - the beach and Tel-Aviv/Yaffo (Jaffa) are also only 30 minutes away (Modiin is in the middle between the two cities - just like Kansas was in the middle between NY and LA - just less travel time between the two!) One should never, ever discount the proximity of a beach to someone (like myself) from LA. I plan to take a day - during Chol HaMoed (vacation days during the High Holiday season) to spend the whole day at the beach. Did I mention I love the beach?

I so love it here, we all so love it here. People keep telling me the first year is the hardest. I keep thinking - "what's hard?"! I suppose all the stupid little beaurocratic things one has to deal with. But life is like that everywhere, really. So if someone comes to Israel expecting everything to be easy and beautiful all the time then I guess all that stuff would really be a problem. I think we are realists.. sometimes things are hard. Enjoy the good things life has to offer. Looking out my rear patio doors - past my rear mirpeset, I see the sunset. It glows in beautiful hues of purple, pink and orange. A wonderful breeze wafts in through the door bringing with it the frangrance of some lemony bush my neighbor has growing in their gan (garden). I hear some birds in the distance and the trickle of water in our new (tiny - but I couldn't live without it) fish pond (fish in a planter pot really - Okay, I know you are all laughing at me!). Backtrack and close your eyes, imagine it - sunset, breeze, frangrance, melodical sounds - every sense is satisfied, Sigh. Peace, Shalom.

I wish it to all of you..


  1. Mom. I love you. Youve brought me to tears. Tears of this crazy awesome happiness. I've always known that you wanted to be there, and Ive watched you struggle for many years. I dont think I ever realized what a whole life's worth of hard work and sacrifice and obedience can bring you. (Now! dont you start crying!, not yet!) You would'nt believe the joy that jumps out of your words-- I cant see your face or hear your expressions and I cant help but see that you havent ever been happier~ I am so happy for you, so much so that it has almost immediately lifted the stress off my shoulders. I think that my current attitude has been --when it rains it pours-- Everything always seems to cave in at once and that once is every day! You said in your blog "that stuff happens everywhere you live" You have solved my problem...I cant run away from all this can I? You also said "I think we are realists.. sometimes things are hard. Enjoy the good things life has to offer." Those words make me think: Have you seen these grandbabies lately they are gorgeous..which by the way I noticed today.. I think Renee has your feet...lucky duck! they, as well as Joe and I are in great heath, thanxs to the wonderful job my husband has to support us that includs healthcare and paychecks. Also, did I tell you I am working from home for the good doctor again!-- Its not much but every penny counts.. I honestly think that he is having me do this part time work to help us out. Even though we both know he doesnt neccesarily need me, I think he would rather let me work for the money than borrow it. I am sure if I stayed up the rest of the night I would continue untill sunrise with blessing that I could count. I really think I needed to wake up from my sleep tonight and check my e-mail and read your words of wisdom in order to get out of the funk that I have been stuck in. On top of you changing the morale in my brain I need you to know that even though you are millions of miles away (dont cry) I am comforted by you. Its that same comfort you get when you stand on your mirpeset and you feel that breeze that comes in and you see that beatiful sunset and "every sense is satisfied" That is so beautiful in every way.. To me..sitting here in Kansas...that is not Israel, that is peace and even more so the presense of God. and when you say "I wish it to you all" your words are so powerful its as if you not neccesarily wished that we could all smell those smells or see that sunset but rather a blessing that God shine his light on us. Perhaps you didnt see it like that when you wrote it, and maybe it took me many words to get to this, but thats what it did for me and I love you so much for it. I miss you very, very much..Where do I get to read John Davids blog and Isaacs blog and Ari's blog. I hear all the time that the boys are doing great but I want hear what they have to say about this new peace. So, I cant promise that I will be able to stay up every night and wright comments, but I can promise that I am going to keep reading...just to make sure I get that much needed reality check and a piece of wisdom from the only mom I will ever have and always love.

  2. Darling daughter, you are so dear to me. Your words did make me cry and laugh & miss you all even more. I am happy that I could bring you some small comfort from so far away. I will write more and more until the words make a road between us & you can come find my shalom.

    I love you very very much! Please kiss and hug those gorgeous grandbabies for Savta!

  3. Shalom Rivka,
    Nir and I LOVE taking turns reading your blog out loud. We are immediately transported to our time we have spent in Israel. Our feelings for Israel - both of love and frustration - are brought to life through your words. Please continue to include Hebrew words in your posts and thank you for describing the reality that is Israel (both the bad and the good) so that we may all come to know her and love her.

    Right now I feel that our blogs parallel one another. You are living in the land of all lands and learning to be there as a Jew among Jews. We are living in a remote location within the vast Diaspora trying to keep our spiritual flame burning bright. Yet, both of us are propelled by our dreams to keep going, keep moving forward.

    I've added you to my list of blogs to follow. If you'd like to read and comment on my blog you can find me at

    Shalom to you and your family!
    p.s. Nir and I created a beta site where people can upload activities where they live for others to find when they visit or where you can invite others to local activities and events... if you have any extra time (and who does??) please feel free to add activities for Modiin so that others can be 'in the know' about exciting things to do in Israel whenever they visit!

    We miss seeing your warm faces in Shul, but are wishing you the best Shanah Tovah yet!