Kibbutz, Living in Community

Bark if you’re Jewish

I am many things. I am a writer, a wife, a mother, a sugar addict.

But one thing I am not is a dog lover.

In fact, my dog-loving friends would say that is an understatement. They’d say I’m a dog-hater.

They’d be exaggerating. But only a little bit.

For a time, I was a dog-owner hater. And then I realized I only hated dog owners who dressed their pets in sweaters and referred to themselves in the third person as “mommy or daddy” when speaking to their dog.

Now, I’m dog- and dog-owner tolerant.

It’s a prerequisite if you want to live on a kibbutz in Israel.

The two biggest concerns I had when we were considering making Aliyah is how would we keep my nut-allergic son safe in a nut-obsessed culture; and how could I possibly live in harmony with the dogs of Israel?

I tried to prepare myself in advance. I started smiling at dogs. I walked through the dog food aisle at Target. I even instructed my kids to not scream in terror when the neighbor’s dog jumped up to sniff them. Even though I think they have every right to scream and fend off with force any living thing who jumps on top of them against their will. (Why do dog owners think it’s okay when their dog jumps up on a kid? Nine times out of ten, their dog is bigger than my kid. Would they want a big grizzly bear jumping up and scratching in the area of their jugular? I think not.)

Alas, none of this conditioning worked.

On Hannaton, there are a lot of dogs; the majority of which are not on leashes the majority of the time. In fact, when the grownups are off at work during the day, there are more dogs wandering around here than humans. And they are under nobody’s jurisdiction; required to follow nobody’s rules, but their own.

They knowingly strut around — daring those of us humans still at home to just try and keep them from shitting on the playground or barking at passing cars. They stand guard over the owners’ driveways until they find a cat to growl at or a lone jogger to chase.

Most of the dogs here are small enough that I could overcome one if need be. (I think.) At least, this is what kept me calm the other night when a pack of three of them followed me home from my friend’s house.

But there is one dog here who is pushing his mazal.* I had a hunch he was a German shepherd and Google confirmed it. (The irony of his German descent is not lost on me.) He looks like this, only bigger, with sharper teeth and with a really arrogant look on his canine face.

Our first encounter was a week ago, mid-afternoon when I was at the playground with my four-year-old son. The dog seems to live across the street from the playground and barked at us as he stood guard in his driveway (no leash.) I casually kept my eye on him, but in my new paradigm of dog tolerance I didn’t want to overreact.

A few minutes later, the dog strutted over to us. I picked up Oliver and slowly walked towards the steps to my street. The dog followed us up the steps. “Look, mommy, the dog is following us,” Oliver said innocently. “What do you think he wants?”

I don’t know, I thought to myself, lunch?

We made it home unscathed, but my older son didn’t when the same dog barked at him and “stole” his soccer ball yesterday afternoon. By the time he was done with it, the ball was deflated and my eight-year-old dog lover was in tears. My son ran all the way home with the dog chasing after him, until my husband shouted at the dog “Lech!” and the dog walked away. Smugly, I’m sure.

Somehow, my son still wants a dog for his birthday next year.

As if.

Now I have to choose between ignoring a matter that is really important to me or being the annoying American dog basher.

It’s bad enough this dog chewed up my son’s brand new soccer ball, but I’m honestly concerned about my family’s safety. What good is it that your kids can run around alone all day if you constantly have to worry about them stepping in dog shit, or worse yet, being eaten by a German shepherd?

I am certain there is a dog lover reading this who will try to reassure me that domesticated dogs are harmless. That “out in the country” is the ideal place for dog owners to live so their pets can have room to play and run.

My counter argument to that is “buy a farm.”

I truly want to live in harmony with both humans and animals here. And I truly promise to try to be tolerant of your dogs despite my distaste for them. But you have to meet me half way. Be a mensch — keep your dog on a leash or in your own fenced-in backyard.

Thou shalt love thy neighbor, right?


Mazal = luck
Lech = Go!

Learning Hebrew

Hebrew by osmosis

I’m thinking about taking the Dora the Explorer approach to learning Hebrew.

Somehow, by doing nothing else but placing my children in front of a TV for a half hour each day at 4:30 pm while I was making dinner, they somehow learned a little bit of Spanish.  Vamanos! Buenos Dias! De nada! (Who came up with the theory that television kills brain cells? I humbly disagree. I’m pretty sure my third child learned her colors from Moose E. Moose.)

All the Vatikim* I’ve met suggest the best way to learn Hebrew is to read the easy newspaper, watch the news on TV, or challenge yourself by placing yourself in situations in which you need to speak Hebrew.  I certainly appreciate this advice, and in fact, believe it to be true. But I’d also like to conduct my own little experiment.

Each Saturday evening before Havdallah, there is a study group that meets on Hannaton. Last week, my friend Shira invited me to the study group and I jumped at the opportunity. (This will probably surprise my beloved Rabbi Roston back in New Jersey since my greatest Shabbat achievement up until this point was learning the hand motions to “Shabbat Shalom” in sign language at the Tot Shabbat service.)

I figured that an intimate study session with the members of the kibbutz would allow me the opportunity to get to know everyone a little better; and I’d be able to partake in an interesting adult conversation. It only occured to me as the rabbi opened his mouth to welcome everyone into his home that the study group would be in Hebrew. Gulp.

(Idiot, by the way, is the same in Hebrew as it is in English. I’m not sure about, “No, duh.”)

But instead of being discouraged, I decided to stay for the remainder of the hour and do my best to understand what was being discussed. This effort lasted about ten minutes, until I realized that I wasn’t going to pick up much more than “Blah, Blah, Blah, Mitzrayim. Blah, Blah, Moshe, Blah, Blah, Yehudim.” Certainly not enough to contribute to the discussion or appreciate the contemplative points other participants were making.

So, I came up with a better idea. Hebrew by osmosis.

Of course, learning language through immersion is not an original idea. This is the theory behind Ulpan or semester abroad or Baby Einstein DVDs.  Would the same principles apply if I simply return to the Torah study group each Saturday night? Will I absorb the language simply by actively listening to my friends ponder Mishnah and debate the commentary of talmudic scholars? Especially if I look into their eyes, focus on their lips, and try really, really hard to understand?

Is it possible that one Saturday night, months from now, I will stand up, tug thoughtfully at my beard, and say in Hebrew: 

“And as Rashi said on the Tanakh — but particularly his commentary on the Chumash…”

I have a hunch this would be possible for someone else. But, not for me.

I’m not one of those unique individuals who has an ear for language. My ears are, in fact, a teeny tiny bit deformed. (It’s genetic and usually well-hidden by my hair; so stop looking.) While medical science has yet to prove this, I think my unusual ears are the reason I’m not such a good listener, and not too good with languages. I took four years of Spanish in high school — four years! — and the only thing I can say is “Yo Quiero…”

“Yo quiero” I could speak Hebrew without having to work really hard at it, but I don’t think that’s happening so I better get myself into an Ulpan before my husband finds a full-time job and I’m the one who’ll have to do drop off and pick up every day by myself at which point the hope of getting myself to an Ulpan four days a week will have been a thing of the past.

So, just to be safe,  I will keep my appointment with the Ulpan coordinator tomorrow. But I still plan on conducting my experiment. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Vatikim = Veteran immigrants
Yo queiro = I want (in SPANISH)

Letting Go, Living in Community, Making Friends

Camp Food

Earlier this week, we joined 10 or so other families in the Chader Ochel* on the kibbutz for a potluck communal dinner.  I got really excited when the invitation arrived in my inbox; for one, I understood the Hebrew flyer almost in its entirety without the assistance of my part-time translator (who also acts as my husband.) But also,  a communal dinner in the Chader Ochel reeked of summer camp, and this, my friends, is why I moved to a kibbutz.

When I think back to the most dramatic, intense, inspiring moments of my childhood, I’m transported back to camp. I split my adolescence between two overnight camps: Camp Wohelo, an all-girls camp in the Blue Ridge mountains of Pennsylvania; and when Wohelo closed, I joined Camp Wekeela, a co-ed camp in Maine. And perhaps it’s the intensity of once having been a part of those camp communities that has me continually seeking to replicate the experience.

I would come home from camp at the end of each summer and instead of hopping off the bus with utter joy at finally being reunited with my parents, I would weep in despair. I remember one summer my parents picked me up at the IKEA by the Plymouth Meeting Mall where the bus dropped us off, and we stopped at Pizza Hut for lunch before getting on the road to Cherry Hill. My parents tried to engage me: Asking me to share tales of my adventures or filling me in on the local gossip. But I just cried into my pan pizza, in between hiccups moaning, “I want to go back. I want to go back.”

The dinner in the Chader Ochel on Wednesday was only vaguely reminiscent of the camp dining hall. While there was plenty of noise and chaos, there were no twenty-year-old Scottish lads delivering big plates of steaming hot schnitzel to my table. Instead, I was doing the waitering, filling up my kids’ plates with homemade pizza and mac and cheese; while said kids ran around like wild maniacs. I have to admit, though, since running around like wild maniacs is a regular evening activity for my children, I’d rather it be in someone else’s noisy dining room than my own. 

I sat across the table from my new friend Anat, who arrived to Hannaton with her family only a few days before we did. Anat was explaining the traditional kibbutz movement to her 10-year-old daughter; particularly the part about the children living together in a house, only seeing their parents a few hours every day. Anat and I both shared with sparkles in our eyes that, as kids, we both thought the idea of living on a kibbutz was cool.

Anat’s daughter wasn’t sold on the idea. She thought that children would want to spend more time with their parents, and she might be right. There is an Israeli film (which I have not seen) called “The Children’s House and the Kibbutz” which supposedly emphasizes the “emotionally deficient childhood that [kibbutz members] experienced in the children’s house of their kibbutz.”

However, thanks to sleepaway camp and a library filled with young adult books set in boarding school, I’ve always had the impression that living with other children far away from your parents was the best way to live. In my mind, only in dormitory-style rooms or in the woods behind said dormitory style room did fun and exciting things happen.

And, perhaps, I still retain that notion today. Is it possible that my choice to live on a kibbutz is partly inspired by my unfulfilled dream of year-round summer camp?


There are a lot of similarities, as I can tell so far. Seeing and interacting with the same people day-to-day; moving from activity to activity in groups; retreating to the quiet solitute of your cabin when you need some down time.

Making friends on a kibbutz is camp style, too. I almost feel like the camper who arrives for the second four-week session super excited to become part of what looks like an awesome scene, but hesitant to integrate herself into the groups and cliques that already organically formed earlier in the summer. My kids, thrust into school and Gan without a choice, are getting over the shy hump a lot faster than their parents. But kids have a lot less relationship baggage to keep them from sharing of themselves authentically and without hesitation, don’t they? 

Have no fear. Just as it’s impossible for me to be late to a party no matter how hard I try, I know that I won’t be able to maintain this level of shyness for much longer. It’s not in my nature.

My nature is to play, to laugh, and to make others laugh: And sooner or later I will need to leave the safe confines of “Ani lo m’daberet Ivrit” to get a much-needed fix.


Chader Ochel = Dining Hall
Ani lo m’daberet Ivrit = I don’t speak Hebrew

Kibbutz, Living in Community, Parenting, Work

Kibbutz Commute

This morning you might have mistaken me for a Folger’s commercial.

I left the house this morning with a big ceramic mug of piping hot, fresh, homemade coffee in my hand. My husband was alongside me loving up his own cup. My two little ones played “parade” as they walked single file up the hill to their respective ganim*. It’s January, and the sun was bright in the sky. There was a bit of a chill in the air — enough to wear a fleece over my long-sleeved hoodie– but clear blue skies heralded the coming of another gorgeous day. Unlike what our friends and family in New Jersey are preparing for — yet another snow storm.

This is our kibbutz commute. (Happy sigh.)

Of course, we’re new immigrants and, for all intents and purposes, still without signficant work to focus on, other than unpacking boxes and adjusting to life without our Blackberrys.

Both Avi and I are freelance consultants at the moment with a only few projects to keep us busy and to contribute to our cost of living. This is temporary, of course, so it’s too soon to tell if our morning glory will be permanent or if it will soon revert back to morning rush once we seek out and secure additional work.

Still, we took notice today on our walk back down the hill of the differences between the suburban and the kibbutz commute. For one thing, Avi said, you need to be chipper in the morning. No more eyes turned down, I-pod turned up, ignore your fellow train rider attitude. From the time we left the house until the time we arrived at our front door, we exchanged about 75 “boker tovs,” 25 “yom tovs,” and two dozen enormous smiles.

As a new arrival, these warm greetings are welcoming and reassuring, but will it soon get old? Personally, I’m having a hard time looking presentable in the morning — the water here is working against me, and my hair looks greasy no matter how often I wash it.  I’m really regretting the savvy, short hair cut I got before I moved because it makes a ponytail impossible.

Will I still welcome the friendly interactions when our kids inevitably revert back to psychotic, disagreeable rugrats after a bad night sleep or too many kosher marshmallows at a neighbor’s house? No one wants to be on display as they have to parent their child through a temper tantrum.

Oh well. That’s the kibbutz commute.

For sure, I don’t miss the bundling up of winter gear, the warming of the mini van so the automatic door will open, the driving up and down icy streets, or the three-stop drop off. So far, the smiles and greetings come easily to me because I’m significantly more relaxed than I have been in a very long time — at least since I gave birth to my first child.

But, the truth is, a lot of my relief likely comes from a reduction in tasks and demands.

My oldest dresses himself in a school “uniform” (iron-on t-shirts with the school logo and sweatpants) and walks himself up the street to the bus stop.  My littlest is fed a healthy breakfast and a hot lunch, so less for me to pack and prepare. My middle guy is the only one home mid-afternoon for lunch and, since he is the one who most benefits from one-on-one time, he’s a lot less grumpy at the end of the day when we all meet together again as a family.

Is this Israel? Or just a lifestyle shift? Many might argue that I could have achieved this by moving back to Arizona or putting my kids in daycare. Perhaps, they’d be right.

I’m not going to spend too much time carefully considering why and how I’m so relaxed right now. I don’t want to jinx it. But, I think it’s important to publicly aknowledge its existence so that when my kids come home with lice (God forbid) or the toilet backs up, I can count on you to remind me that once upon a time, my life was a cheery, sunny commercial for blissful living.

Boker tov = Good morning
Yom tov = Have a good day
Ganim = kindergartens

Living in Community


I’ve gotten a lot of feedback regarding my recent post on why I made Aliyah, particularly in response to the comments I made about community.

Some feedback came from my friends and neighbors in New Jersey who disagree that East Coasters don’t make time for community. (“Remember when I brought you that meal after you had Annabel!”)

Some came from old friends who congratulated me on my decision to make Aliyah, but challenged me on the notion that Israel is the only place to build community. (“You suggest that Israelis are just as busy as East Coasters, but you imply that the reason they have community is because they intentionally desire it, thus suggesting that east coasters do not.”)

Others were simply surprised that I live in Israel now. (“Well, that explains why your phone has been disconnected”.)

For the record, I do have community back in the States…and I’m so very grateful for the people I love there and who love me: My friends. My family. My synagogue. My kids’ schools. My book club. My moms’ groups. My colleagues. My clients. I’m a student of and a builder of communities. And, as I wrote previously, community is key to my sanity.

But, community is a word that is very much open to interpretation and evolution. As is the word “intention.” There is much to be written on the topic (which is why I created a category here called “Living in Community.”)

I do hope that all of you who have written me offline will consider reposting your comments on the blog itself because your input is one of the best parts about blogging.

I don’t blog to hear myself talk.

Ironically enough, I blog so I can build community here.

I share of myself so that, hopefully, I may engage you in a dialogue — one that will benefit both you and me. Personal blogs are a unique forum for writers; This isn’t fiction and I don’t have a team of thoughtful editors carefully proofreading each piece. (Oh, how I wish I did.) Some might say this is little more than a closely revised public journal entry on a very specific topic.

Where this veers from journaling is that I actually value your opinion, whether you agree with me or disagree, and do hope you might consider publicly sharing your thoughts with this community of readers. (It’s easy. You just leave a reply under “Leave A Reply” and click “Post.”)

There’s a good chance that by speaking up you’ll educate and inspire me (and others) in ways that can only happen by being part of a community.

The very basis of this blog is that I’m processing the Aliyah experience. I still have so very much to learn. I hope you will stay tuned to find out what happens next…and to continue to be part of the conversation.

Living in Community, Making Friends, Parenting

The Why

By Jen Maidenberg

(Author’s Note: This is an edited version slightly different than the original )

There are a host of reasons why families decide to make Aliyah: I’m sure I don’t even know the half of them. Zionism. Religious devotion. Persecution. Patriotism. Asylum. Readily available falafel and hummus.

In fact, if you ask each member of my family why we moved here, you’d likely get a different answer from each of us. In addition to the excitement at the idea of exploring a new country and culture, I was looking for freedom (for my children), ease (for both me and my husband), and community.

Mostly, community, though. Because I think once you are part of a tight community, freedom and ease soon follow.

I spent the first half of my life insisting I could do it all on my own. And the second half trying to identify who was ready and willing to support me.

My parents will confirm that I was an ultra-independent kid – to a fault. Once I could figure out how to do something by myself, I wouldn’t let anyone help me or stop me. At some point, however, that confidence morphed into the idea that I was self-sufficient. That other people were not as dependable as I was, and certainly not as loyal, so why trust them with vital tasks…or more important, my needs and expectations?

This was an easy concept to hang on to through high school and college; though looking back, I think I would have enjoyed both experiences a little more had I been less judging of my friends, less judging of myself, and more willing to forgive and accept. Accept that human beings are works in progress, and that all most of us really want is to love and be loved. If I knew what it meant to have compassion for myself, back then, I would have asked for help – and listened to wise advice– every step of the way.

Once I got married and moved far away from my hometown and family, but especially after giving birth to my first child in that far-away-from-my-hometown town, I realized that doing it all yourself was nothing but a one way ticket to the insane asylum.

I needed help. I needed an extra pair (or two) of hands. I needed other crazy parent types to count on, to gripe to, and to confirm that my parenting style was just the right mix of firm and doting.  Living in a town without family nearby,  I urgently needed an emergency contact or two to put on the preschool forms.

I first heard the word “chavura” when we lived in Tucson. My friend Devora, also a transplant to Arizona from “back East,” had organized a group of 5 or 6 Jewish families whose children were all in the same synagogue preschool class. The families, most of whom did not have relatives nearby, got together on Jewish holidays, celebrated for each other during new simchas, and supported each other during difficult times. This came with the added benefit of an automatic invitation to a Superbowl party, as well as a few people you could count on to take your kids for playdates when you were feeling under the weather.

“I need me a chavura,” I thought at the time. “Really need.”

Soon after, though, we moved back to New Jersey where my husband and I are both from, mostly for this very reason. NJ, we understood at the time, wasn’t really the place we’d choose to live except for the fact that all of our family lived there.

Once back in NJ, we were fortunate to rebuild the close bonds with our family and develop a few extraordinary friendships. We lived in a great town with fantastic resources and really smart, interesting people.

But something was still missing.


This isn’t to say we were community-less. We had pockets of community here and there. Our synagogue preschool community. My book club community. My moms of kids with food allergies online support group community. But these communities all existed much like a Venn Diagram. They were stand-alone communities that intersected at me.

I needed – craved actually – something a little more intentional, a little more intense, and a little more … organized togetherness. More than that, I wanted my circles to connect in multiple places … not just at the intersection of me.

Which is why, when people ask me, I say I moved to a kibbutz in Northern Israel (through Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Go North program) in search of intentional community.

I wanted a place where people put people first. A neighborhood filled with neighbors who said hello to each other, and better yet were ready and able to hand over a cup of flour when needed. I wanted  a place where my kids could run around in packs and know other adults by first name and be influenced by them. I wanted potluck dinners, and impromptu meetups on the lawn. I wanted gardening committees and Shabbat sing-a-longs.

I wanted to live in a place where community trumped busy-ness. Where people made time for community because they committed to.

It’s not that Israel – or Hannaton, where I live — isn’t busy. Here in Israel and on Hannaton, most two-parent households are two-parent working households. Kibbutz kids have pretty full schedules, piled with after-school activities and homework. And yet, somehow there is time for community.

If I were to make a Venn diagram of community on Hannaton it would be where neighborhood intersects with intention intersects with commitment. Intention and commitment are what turns a neighborhood into “community.”

Community is intentional here on Hannaton. It’s desired (most of the time). It’s nurtured (as often as our tired, over-scheduled bodies will allow). It’s preserved.  In community, as opposed to a neighborhood, you open your doors and wave others in. Even when you don’t want to. You let down your guard, even if you’re really, really scared. You share of yourself. You give. You receive. You ask for help. You gracefully accept.

Living in community forces me – forces anyone, really — to go past my comfort zone, beyond my previously-established boundaries.  It’s scary, yet, potentially so rewarding.

You don’t need to move to Israel for intentional community, many people have said to me.

And they’re right. But I did. And I found it. Here.



Kibbutz, Living in Community, Making Friends, Parenting

Christmas in Israel

It takes more than a month for a container to ship from the United States to Israel. When we finally decided on a shipping company, we had a choice to make – Be without our “stuff” on the back end or the front end. Meaning, the sooner we could part with our toys, books, kitchenware, clothes, tools, and all the other items we deem necessary for day-to-day living, the sooner we’d have them once we arrived in Israel.

Our shippers came to pack up about three weeks before the day of our flight with the intention that we’d receive our container only 4-5 days after we landed in Israel. Since our plan was to live with Avi’s parents in Kfar Hittim for a few days while we handled bureaucratic issues, we knew we could hang on for a few more days before receiving our shipment to Hannaton.

Four to five days, however, turned into 19 days.

The day the boat carrying our container arrived in the port of Haifa, the port workers went on a five-day strike.

Followed by a nice long Shabbat weekend.

Followed by a few days while they caught up unloading the “more important” shipments.

Followed by a nice long Shabbat weekend.

Followed by a few days of missing paperwork and phone calls between our shipping company and Misrad HaPnim to “make sure we are new immigrants” and entitled to tax breaks at customs.

Followed by days of waiting until they could reserve a truck big enough to carry the container up North. Followed by days of worrying that all this was code for “we lost your shipment at sea.”

Finally, my otherwise kind and sensitive husband had enough. Remember what Bruce Banner used to say before he turned into the Incredible Hulk? “You won’t like to see me when I’m angry.” Avi switched from his new-American-immigrant-speaking-Hebrew accent to his down home rip-you-a-new-one like a native Israeli twang. It wasn’t long before he was in touch with Moti, the manager, who got things rolling a little bit faster. (By the way, all the Israelis we’ve told this to asked us why we didn’t ask to speak to a manager sooner – apparently, it’s the only way you get things going.)

We received a phone call at 4 o’clock in the afternoon a few days ago from Moti who said, “I have some good news, you’ll have your things in 2-3 hours. The truck is on its way.”

In the dark of night (okay, it was only 7 pm, but it was very dark), four guys loaded our boxes and furniture in through one of the bedroom windows. “This is Israel,” the one who could speak English said. Loading through the window was easier than navigating the ten stairs down to our front door.

They finished at 10 pm, too late for us to do anything but breathe a sigh of relief that we finally had our possessions in our possession.

Since then we’ve been chipping away at it bit by bit. And, as you can imagine, opening the boxes and unwrapping the packaging is like tearing into your gifts at Christmas.  But it’s Christmas for the grownups only; our kids don’t really seem to care.

Being without their Legos or their dolls when we were stuck inside in New Jersey was a bit challenging. But since we’ve arrived in Israel, and more specifically since they started school, they’ve been spending most of their spare daylight time playing with the outdoor cats, kicking the ball around with neighborhood kids, or swinging on the hammock swing. And when we finally opened up the boxes filled with their toys yesterday so their playthings would be waiting for them when they got home from school, they looked at the room, said an obligatory, “Wow,” and went in the backyard to play with the cardboard boxes all afternoon.

Their parents, on the other hand, are much more appreciative each time they open a new box. In the past when we moved, I’ve always packed our things and labeled our boxes meticulously so that when we arrived at our destination and we needed, let’s say a pot or a pan or a container of wipes, we could access it quickly.

Our shippers, on the other hand, didn’t do such a great job labeling the contents. For the most part, the cartons were labeled “kitchen,” “basement,” “clothes,” or “CDs.” (Yes, we brought our CD collection to Israel. Ask my I-phone owning husband, “why,” because I don’t know the answer.)

I didn’t pack our boxes because I was under the impression the shippers needed to take a careful inventory for customers. Although, to be fair, perhaps their strategy is “keep it simple” and customs will leave you alone.


I’d be lying if I said we kept it simple when packing for this new phase of our life. After years of Israeli friends and family asking us to bring them or send them “special items” from the States – white albacore tuna, Old Navy clothes, M and Ms – we packed almost as if we were moving to a remote island in the Pacific.

There is great irony in this, I know, considering one of the main reasons we moved to a kibbutz in Israel was to embrace a lower key, less materialistic life.
And, yet, when we finally found the box with my toiletries: my stock of Whole Foods 365 brand shampoo and Tom’s baking soda toothpaste, I cheered. As did Avi when he found his wireless router, which we had almost checked off as left behind.

Christmas. Not presents, per say, but little care packages from home to help make the transition a teeny bit easier.

I am confident that as we dig ourselves out of move mode, we’ll find little gifts in the most unexpected places. We already have. A helping hand from a neighbor; a Shabbat invitation; a new friend. Gifts that cost very little, but make a huge difference in our lives. And can only be found here in Israel.

Letting Go, Living in Community, Love, Parenting


I still don’t feel like I live in Israel.

This is probably because I don’t.

Technically, I do, of course. I am now an official citizen of the State of Israel. I have a new cellphone number and an address here.  I have a Teudat Zehut — and therefore, an Israeli identity. And by mid-week, all three of my kids will hopefully officially be in school.

I live here. But I am still in limbo.

Our shipment with all of our furniture, most of our clothes, our new Israeli small and large appliances, and all the material possessions that make it possible for me to live at peace with my children (read “Legos” and “dollhouse”) are still, supposedly, stuck in the port of Haifa.

Three days after we landed at Ben Gurion, our container arrived at the port. Unfortunately, that same day was the start of a week-long strike of the port workers. This is Israel.

The strike was finished a week ago, but we are still without our shipment, and also without any word of where it is or when it might arrive. Our rented home on Hannaton sits empty. We remain living out of duffel bags on the second floor of my very generous in-laws’ home in Kfar Hittim, a moshav overlooking Tiberias. I am fully aware that the situation could be much, much worse. We could be living in an Absorption Center, as many immigrants do. I could be living in a one-room apartment with not just three, but six children. I could be pregnant.

Things could definitely be worse.

And, things could be better. Right now.

Meaning, I could get over wanting this phase to be over.

I am a believer in the Law of Attraction. Say what you will, but it’s worked for me. Using a strong sense of focus and clearing my mind of negative thoughts, I somehow have been able to manifest anything from incredibly close parking spots to a huge bonus for my husband. Ask my family members about my parking luck…it’s not luck, my friends, it’s the power of intention.

So why isn’t the Law of Attraction working now?

How am I unable to attract a 40 foot container attached to a tractor trailor to my little red house on Hannaton?

I posed this question to my possibility-creating Facebook friends. One said: “Perhaps focus on the feeling you would feel once the shipment arrives. Just keep on thinking those feelings.” Another said, “If you can accept this moment just the way it is, everything gets easier- whether it all shows up or not. You do what you can and then relax and trust that it will work out in the best way possible.” (A lot of people “liked” that response.)

And, yet another said, “[Practicing the Law of Attraction] is harder than it sounds. That’s why they call it practice.”


Can I accept this moment just as it is?

Can I enjoy the chaos, the uncertainty, the cramped quarters, the unfamiliar tastes, smells, and sounds?

Can I be with the crying and the pushing and the acting out of my children? Accept that they too are in limbo?

Lord knows I’ve been trying.

But I know that I haven’t been trying hard enough.

I know what I am capable of accomplishing. Who I am capable of being…for myself and for my children.

I haven’t been her as of late.

When my friend Rita challenges me to accept this moment just as it is, what I know she’s saying is: “Choose it.”

Once I choose the balagan that is my life right now, I will suddenly have all I want. I won’t have to resist it any longer.

And even those who don’t practice Law of Attraction know what happens when you resist.

It persists.

So, what happens when I let go? When I accept? When I choose?

Anything and everything.

Limbo disappears.

And suddenly, I am here.


Learning Hebrew, Love, Work

The Israel Experience

Part of the reason I feel so safe and secure in my decision to move to a foreign country is because my husband is not only fluent in the native language, but he lived here as both a child and, for a short time, as a young adult. Furthermore, he spent many years leading and coordinating teen tour programs through Israel. He even has an Israeli passport. In my mind, he’s Israeli.

But, as he keeps trying to tell me, there’s Israeli and then there’s Israeli.

The other day, we were driving around Tiberias on our way home from Misrad HaKlita (the most important government office for new immigrants since they are in charge of issuing us our monthly stipend) when I saw an interesting looking building.

“What’s that building? Do you know? It looks like a museum,” I asked Avi.

“I don’t know what that building is,” he responded.

“What? It says yad v’levanim. That sounds like yad vashem. Is it a museum?” I asked more emphatically.

“I really don’t know. Maybe it’s a museum,” he responded a little more impatiently.

“Well, what does yad vashem mean? Doesn’t it mean hall of rememberance or something?”

“No,” he said. “Yad means hand. Shem means name.”

“Yes, I know,” I said finally exasperated. “But maybe yad is like an official word for rememberance museum, even though it doesn’t mean museum or rememberance?!?”

“Jen! I don’t know what Yad V’levanim is,” he said. “I don’t know why they called it Yad Vashem. I don’t know everything! I can tell you what it’s like to swim in the Dead Sea, or what time of day you should climb Masada, or where to find kosher pizza on Ben Yehuda street. I know the Israel experience! I don’t know Israel LIFE!”

And suddenly I got it. Avi is a newbie, just like me.

Neither of us are freshmen, thank goodness, which is why we had the courage to make this move.  I’d probably place myself with the sophmores: I know enough Hebrew to read road signs and enough Arabic to know that the billboards in this village are not in Hebrew.

Avi is easily a rising senior, with his fluency and ability to seemlessly switch from an American to Israeli accent. He can order a double espresso and flirt with the Israeli barista; he can explain our son’s nut allergies to the waitress; and he can talk his way out of a speeding ticket. But he still has a bit to learn: There are words he needs to know now that he never learned as a kid, like “income tax” or “down payment.” Though an experienced professional for many years, most of which involved interacting with very high level professional and community leaders in both the States and Israel, Avi now needs to learn how to be an Israeli businessperson and consumer.

This isn’t the JCC Israel Experience, where we get a driver, a tour guide, and an air-conditioned bus, not to mention thousand of shekelim to keep in our fanny packs “just in case.” This is no vacation. This is no three-hour tour. This is our life.

And we’re not counselors looking after a bunch of teenagers from Syosset for five weeks — we’re parents of three young kids, who happen to have a few challenging needs to navigate in Israel. In particular, a sesame allergy for one and a nut allergy for the other.  But, that’s a rant of a different color.

I’m lucky. I know this. I don’t need to clutch my Hebrew-English dictionary. I have a husband who, for the most part, serves that purpose. I’m also fortunate to have a few friends here, who have already crossed the bridges I need to cross, and can advise me as to which is the smoother trail.

But, for sure, my husband and I are now seeing Israel through new pairs of eyes. Not as eager young tourists or upbeat, energetic counselors who know that a hot shower, a soft bed, and a familiar home-cooked meal are only weeks and a plane ride away.


This is our home now. And it’s going to take both skill sets — his and mine — to make it feel that way.

Learning Hebrew, Parenting

On the sidelines

Today, a local journalist came to visit us. The reporter wanted to mainly focus on the efforts of my mother- and father-in-law, who in their retirement are trying to volunteer as much as possible in the local community, including working at a school nearby, where they teach English to children with special needs.

However, the reporter also spent a little time asking Avi and me questions about our decision to make Aliyah, about what we plan to do here, our first impressions, and what some of the challenges are here for new olim.

“Em, sooooo… I imagine thee situation here makes you nervous,” he asked me confidently in English.

“No, not really,” I responded. “What makes me more nervous is trying to navigate Kupat Holim (the health-care system in Israel), Beit Sefer and Gan (school), and other important mommy-related things without speaking very much Hebrew.”

The hot young sabra was surprised, but nodded sympathetically.

“Look, I’m used to knowing things,” I told him. “To listening to conversations and actually contributing to the discussion. In the States, I’m not someone who sits by with an inquisitive look and complacent smile. I have an opinion! I am in control! I am stubborn and strong-willed. Here I have no choice but to sit on the sidelines. I am not comfortable on the sidelines.”

My Hebrew is rusty, at best. I am a decent eavesdropper, but if someone trys to ask me a direct question in Hebrew, I am the proverbial deer in headlights.

“Huh? Who me?” My options are few:

1. Respond with a friendly smile and say in Hebrew, “Sorry I don’t speak Hebrew.” Which is not entirely true, so I feel like (a) a liar and (b) a coward.

2. Respond with a friendly smile and show off my three years studying Hebrew at The George Washington University. “I am a new immigrant. I am still learning. Please speak slowly,” I could say in Hebrew. This unfortunately would require a lot of heavy lifting on my part, though. I would have to listen carefully to the person slowly repeat their question, and then pray super hard that I understand it this time. It’s unlikely.

Or, 3. I could take the easy way out by throwing my hands up in the air and say in a heavy Italian accent, “I no-ah, speak-ah, da Hebrew!”

Many of the officials I’ve had to talk to here so far have asked me when I will take ulpan, the intensive Hebrew language institute.

I’d love to take ulpan — Can you imagine? Every day, five days a week, I’d wake up and travel by myself on a bus 30 to 40 minutes away from my children to a big city where I’d be with other adults from 8:30 am – 1:30 pm. I’d study the language, which would help me acclimate to society and, most likely, make friends. Then, I’d get back on a bus and ride 30 – 40 minutes by myself back home, maybe take a little snooze on the way, or read a book.  This would be lovely! What mom of three young children would not want to take ulpan?

Alas, taking ulpan is the stuff of dreams for the new immigrant mom.

Can someone explain to me what mother has the luxury of ulpan? When she’s trying to get her kids ready and off to school?  Not to mention, there’s all the stuff that has to happen when the kids are at school. (This assumes that my children are actually in school right now, which they are not, thanks to  bureaucratic snags.)

There’s the tedious, yet necessary “life” stuff like signing up for utilities; buying a cell phone plan; researching ridiculously expensive used cars to buy; learning the metric system; and registering, registering, registering for everything…school, health insurance, bituach leumi

And what happens if (when) one of the kids get sick? Or if I need to be home for one of the many utility workers to get access inside my house? And what about earning money? Sure, ulpan sounds great, but between parenting, setting up house, and trying to find work, I’m not sure I have time to learn your language.

Don’t think I’m not grateful for the support of the Israeli government and our sponsoring organization, Nefesh B’ Nefesh. I am grateful. Thank you for the financial assistance, the free health insurance and the tax breaks. But, you know what would be a really great benefit for a new olim?

An Israeli au pair.

A cute young girl, perhaps fresh out of the army, who would come to my home every day at 7 am, get my kids ready for school, make their lunch, see them off. Then, she’d clean up their breakfast plates, go food shopping, do a couple loads of laundry. In between, she’d search the internet listings for job opportunities for me or my husband. She’d open the door for the guy from Bezeq. She’d be home for the big kids when they get home from school, and she’d help them with their homework (which is all in Hebrew).

Somewhere around 3 pm, I’d saunter in. All flush with excitement over the useful new phrases I’d learned that day in ulpan.

“Do you sell gluten-free bread?” 

“In which aisle might I find extra virgin olive oil?”

“How much longer will it take for you to complete my transaction?”

Or, if I want to speak like a true Israeli in line while waiting my turn for a customer representative at “Pelefon,” Israel’s version of Verizon Wireless, I might learn how to say:

“You’re nothing! Who are you?  Where is your manager? Where is someone who can actually help me?”

Yes, an Israeli au pair would be a wonderful gift for new immigrant mothers. I wonder if there isn’t a generous female philanthropist in the United States who might consider creating a fund just for that.

Then, I just might have the time to go to ulpan.

Politics, Religion, Work


As we were trying to put the kids to bed last night, and as my husband was scrolling through news from back home on his IPhone, he saw the headlines about the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and bystanders at a local Safeway grocery store.

“There was a shooting in Tucson today,” he said. “They shot Gabrielle Giffords.” A few years back, my husband had met Giffords, the first Jewish congressperson from Arizona, when we lived in Tucson and Avi was executive director of the America Israel Friendship League, Tucson chapter.

“How can that be?” I asked him, even though I knew he didn’t have the answer, and that the question had no definitive answer.

Sure, Tucson is not without its share of controversy, immigration and border issues being the biggest headlines, second only to wildfires, perhaps. But when we lived in Tucson, we felt safe. Particularly since we landed in Tucson two weeks after 9/11 and our new home was a million miles away from what felt like terror centrals at the time: New York City, where we had just moved from, and Washington D.C.

So how is it that a local supermarket, one that’s probably frequented by our former neighbors and colleagues, was the scene of what is looking more and more like a hate crime? How is it that a Jew has fallen in Tucson, a town that never felt threatening to me, not for a minute, despite the bars on the windows and the occasional gun on the belt of an old school cowboy?

Here I am in Israel, where we are certainly reminded of the threat to our safety thanks to bag checks at the entrance to every store and the very visible presence of the Israeli army. But it’s what has happened in Tucson that frightens me.

I feel the fear as a Jew and as a woman. As someone who speaks up for what I believe in. As someone who airs my grievances publicly. And as someone who wants to feel safe at a community event at a grocery store.

It’s in a moment like this that I also want to say to my American friends, those who are scared for my safety here; those who think Israel is too dangerous a place for a family to live; those who think they are safer than I am because they live in the United States:

Terrorists can strike anywhere, any time. What I am learning, though, even after living here only two weeks, is that Israel is simply better prepared for it.

Living in Community, Making Friends, Parenting

Child’s Play

When speaking with any Israeli in advance of our move here, a common thread wove itself into the conversation. “If nothing else, Israel is a great place to raise children,” each would say.

I know this must be surprising for Americans to hear — How can a country whose land has been ravaged by war, terrorism, and political strife be a great place to raise a family? However, as most foreign visitors of Israel will tell you, Israel on the ground is a much different place from Israel in the news.

In the five times I visited Israel before I made Aliyah, I never once saw a scared Israeli. Only one time, when I was a participant on a teen tour and staying for the weekend on an army base, did I ever witness any evidence in person of the unrest here. (Something had tripped a security wire on the perimeter of the base and the soliders had to get into formation… it turned out to be an animal.)

That said, there still seems to be an underlying, and perhaps in-born attitude in Israel that life is short…so you must enjoy it while you can. This manifests as heavy partying among Israel’s young adults; as a national smoking habit; and as freedom, in every way and form, for Israel’s children. The freedom to play outside at all hours of the day and night; the freedom to walk into town or to each other’s houses alone; the freedom to eat whatever and whenever they want; or the freedom to watch TV shows that are a bit too mature for them (like the currently popular telenovellas from Mexico).

Children rule in Israel…or so it seems to this new immigrant mother. It wouldn’t be fair for me to judge just yet. Although it’s hard not to judge because I feel myself being judged…and so I also feel defensive.

In a group of mothers at an impromptu playdate recently, I was the only American…and the only mom saying no. No, that my children had already eaten enough chocolate chips from the bag. No, don’t hug the baby that hard. No, you’re a big girl, you can do it by yourself. You don’t need my help.

By Israeli standards, I’m a tough mom.

I’m the only mother on the street who suggests that my child might wear a helmet while trying out the scooter. The suggestion that this activity might present a danger to my eight-year-old is the butt of a joke. As is the idea that 7:00 pm is a reasonable bedtime for my two-year-old.

In the States, I was probably a more anxious mother than some of my friends, but I was never a complete anomaly. In the States, you have the type of mother that is constantly worried that something bad will happen to her child. And then you have the type of mother who is never worried…until something bad happens to her child. It’s with a very deep sense of worry or calm that American mothers go about parenting their children, all dependant on the psychological make up of the mom.

What motivates the casual nature you see in mothers in Israel? Does the “innocence” of childhood carry more weight here because of the conflict? Is childhood treasured more? Preserved at all costs?  

Are Israeli mothers less fearful of common dangers we American moms incessantly worry about — choking, getting run over by a car, child molesters — because Israelis understand the very real danger of being completely wiped out in a matter of seconds by a very real enemy?

I don’t know. But I lend myself to an experiment — that of being an anxious American mother among much more seemingly easy-going, and sometimes indulgent, moms. How will I fare? How will my children?

Already my son had one accident that may have been prevented had I let my anxiety rule and not my desire to fit in. But, he’s okay. No broken bones. No worse the wear for having fallen face down into the street off the scooter.

And, perhaps I too will be okay in the face of allowing my children to be children. To trip. To fall. To succeed. To fail. To choose. To indulge.

To be children.