Culture, Family, Kibbutz, Letting Go, Living in Community, Love, Making Friends, Parenting, Spirituality, Uncategorized


A friend of mine moved from NJ to Guam with her husband and two boys a few months before we decided to make Aliyah. On Facebook, I followed her move and her family’s transition with interest, particularly once we decided we were moving to Israel.

Despite what I assume must be vast differences in culture and landscape between Guam and Israel, I often find myself nodding in agreement and understanding when I read Shelley’s posts. (This could also have much to do with our common interests in holistic parenting and healthy eating, as well.)

There is, I’ve realized, companionship in leaving the busy American suburbs, the busy American life, for the “outskirts.”

Today Shelley wrote, “There are times when I miss living in the States with all of its modern conveniences, but then there are days like yesterday when I never want to leave our little bubble in Guam.”

I know exactly what she means.

Except our bubble is not Israel, per say, as Israel is no island paradise: She possesses as much hassle, aggravation, and overstimulation as any developed country.

My bubble is Kibbutz Hannaton, the small 120-or-so family Lower Galilee community in which we live. And a sub-bubble of Hannaton is my little red house with green shutters.  And yet another sub-bubble is my little work enclave of former Americans whom allow me eight hours a day to pretend I still live and work in the U.S.

But the true sub-bubble is the one I created for myself with intention last December when I  chose not just to live somewhere different, but to live differently.

I often tell people (in fact, I did so just yesterday during lunch) that our successful “absorption” here is due in large part to the community in which we chose to live: one made up of young, growing families like our own. One where friendships are only now being formed…because the community is still new and finding itself. So, despite being different, we still somehow fit in.

But I also credit our successful transition to the conscious lifestyle changes we, as a family unit, decided to make in conjunction with our move.

In addition to many of the comforts we gave up — the modern conveniences Shelley mentions in her post — we also gave up our attachments to what we knew up until then as the “right way to live” in the hopes that we might find happiness living another way.

One modern convenience I gave up was information overload.

I was (and still am in many ways) an information addict. My understanding up until recently was that with more information comes more control…over my own life…over what happens to me and to my kids. My understanding was that information made me safer; made my life easier. This is why I easily fell in love with the Internet, email, blogs, Facebook. And, to some extent all those modern conveniences have improved my life. But what I’ve discovered, retroactively, was how much they also controlled my life.

I had a really good excuse for feeding my addiction; addicts always do. I was a business owner. A writer. A blogger. My success depended on my communication with the outside world. I needed to check check check…all the time. Who knew when the next big opportunity, client or connection would land in my inbox? At the height of my addiction, I had six different email addresses, four blogs, two Facebook profiles, three Fan Pages, a LinkedIn and two Twitter accounts to manage. Not to mention those I managed for my clients. 

I also had kids with asthma and allergies. I had unexplained chronic illness of my own. I had an acute awareness that with more information about the world around me, the greater chance I had of healing myself and healing them. Information provided answers. Tools. Connections to the right people. How could I give up information? 

I also consciously understood that my information interface, so to speak, was possibly unhealthy.  Which made for a bit of a contradiction.

Despite my awareness that my commitment to my online personas (and to my business and clients) was likely impacting my real-life relationships with my husband and my kids, I persisted.  Despite the fact that my comments on your “feed” may have been keeping me from experiencing real, waking, daily pleasures, I couldn’t shut down. I couldn’t give it up. I couldn’t walk away from it.

Until I started walking away from it. Taking baby steps. That started once my feet touched ground in Israel.

As I said, my information withdrawal began first with an intention. But I followed through with an action: I purposefully did not register my Blackberry here in Israel. I got myself a regular old cellphone with a regular old phone call plan. No emails, no SMS packages. My husband did not register his IPhone either which was a HUGE shocker for me because my husband loves his IPhone more than I love information. Or, at least, equally as much.

Just this simple choice, along with the decision not to purchase Cable TV made a great impact on the quality of our lives in the first few months we lived here.  We quickly adjusted to checking emails only on our computer (remember when you used to do that?) and our kids spent more time outside and not in front of the TV than they had ever in their lives.

And that was nice for a while. I’d like to say that we remained unplugged, but we didn’t. A few months in, we used Hebrew immersion as an excuse to sign up for basic cable. The kids still only watch a portion of what they used to. (I haven’t watched an episode of the evening news or any sitcom, save for Israel’s Ramzor.)

A few months after that, my husband bought a new IPhone, much to my dismay, and I often find him face down fingering the thing with pleasure. That said, it only takes one semi- dirty look from me for him to put the thing down when the kids are asking him a question (repeatedly) and his finger keeps methodically sliding across the little touchpad as if it’s in a trance. He also gave up TV and for the first time in many years I can now find him in bed in the evenings reading e-books on the Nook. 

Once I got a full-time job, they handed me a Smartphone with my work email configured, but amazingly, without the unspoken expectation that I be attached to it 24-7. And I like that. I like that a lot.

Despite the reintroduction of information overload devices, my information withdrawal continues. I didn’t configure my personal email into to my new phone. I never check my work email after I leave the office or on the weekend. And I have found as the months pass, I check my personal email less and less often: Sometimes going as much as 2-3 days without checking. People who were used to hearing from me immediately would write back after only hours asking me, “Where are you? Did you get my email?”

Sure, I am still on Facebook. It’s my lifeline to friends and family who didn’t follow me to Israel. But I’m hardly on Twitter; have no interest in this new thing called Google Plus. Sometimes, I even find it difficult to motivate myself to blog. I find that at the end of the day, after working and spending time with my family, I prefer to walk and then to read. And then to sleep.

Yesterday, I discovered my main personal email account was down. I had forgotten to pay the web host for a month or two and they shut my account down temporarily. People reached out to me via Facebook or SMS asking me what happened to my email. Why were mails being bounced back?

At first I panicked that my email was down, “What if someone is trying to reach me??” But my panic lasted only a minute. Soon after, the feeling transformed into freedom.

I realized I had passed over the hurdle of my information addiction. I was now able to say no. To be without. To let go. In particular, I wasn’t worried about what I had missed or would miss over the day or so the email account would be down. I wasn’t worried about what people might think when they received their emails returned, unread.  In fact, I decided right then and there to pare down all my email accounts, returning only to one. One that I may or may not check during the day.

This is not to say I’m unplugging completely. Or that I will ever really be able to fully walk away from easy access information. There is no guarantee that this represents a permanent recovery from information addiction. But it certainly indicates a big step in the right direction.

I think I’ve developed a taste for something new.

Being here. Being present. Absorbing today. Still with an eye on tomorrow, but with a good solid foot planted in today.

Culture, Education, Family, Kibbutz, Learning Hebrew

Fool’s errand

This morning, as I was just starting to feel better about my tough week, my husband corrected my Hebrew.

It’s perfectly okay that he corrects my Hebrew — it’s something I have asked him to do with the intention of learning quicker. After all, aren’t your mistakes sometimes more memorable than your achievements?

Despite the fact that I’ve asked him to correct me, I still often feel like an asshole when he does. Particularly when I realize that I’ve previously made the same mistake in front of someone who didn’t correct me. Someone who let my mistake just hang there in midair. Who just nodded, but inside thought to herself either a) “awww…isn’t the new immigrant so cute?” or b) “dumbass.”

The correction, in case you are wondering, was my use of the word “chuggim” when I really meant “chaggim.” Chuggim, for those who don’t speak Hebrew, are after-school enrichment type classes. Chaggim are literally holidays or festivals, but refers here in Israel to the Jewish High Holidays. In  September, people are constantly referring to “achrei hachaggim” (after the holidays) because the chaggim are as disruptive to your life and schedule here in Israel as winter break is in the States. In September, you’re just getting your life back on track after the summer break and then WHAM, the chaggim hit you.

I actually know the difference between chuggim and chaggim. It wasn’t a true mistake; the kind where I used the wrong word because I thought it was the right word.  It was a mistake of confidence. It was a mistake rooted in my desire to speak Hebrew without thinking, which is what all the veteran immigrants advise you to do.

The two words are similar sounding and used frequently (at least by weary parents). Chuggim just came out. I quickly understood my mistake after my husband corrected me and also suddenly realized it wasn’t the first time I made it…and that the previous time was to a friend of mine. (A friend, I hope, in the “aww….isn’t she cute” category.)

The chuggim/chaggim mistake came up in the context of my mother’s upcoming visit to Israel, which we are all very excited for. (Yes, emphasis added with love for my mother who reads every word of every blog post…and then analyzes what I must have really meant when I wrote it.)

In June, I asked everyone I knew if they had a school calendar for the upcoming school year. My mother was planning a trip during the chuggim (which is probably what I  said at the time, though you now know I meant chaggim). It was my intention to coordinate her trip with the break from school and work during the chaggim.

Everyone assured me that yes, there would be a national holiday declared, but they couldn’t tell me the exact dates.

What?!? This was maddening to me, and more so to my mother, from whom I inherited my “bordering on maniacal” organizational skills and obsessive need to plan in advance. How could they not know in June the official school break for the High Holidays? Wasn’t it the same every year? Didn’t it occur between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Or during Sukkot? Or both? Sure, our winter break in the States varies from year to year, but it basically starts a few days before Christmas and ends a day or two after New Year’s. It’s predictable! You can plan around it! You don’t need to be a fortune teller to figure it out.

But no one here could answer my question. Not the parents with kids currently in the system and not parents of older kids. No one knew. I even searched our regional web site (in Hebrew!!!) to try to find out the answer on my own (after my husband politely decided not to on my behalf).

I finally just heard yesterday from a coworker who heard it announced on the radio that the school break would be during Sukkot (the week after my mom’s visit.) I think, but I’m not 100% sure, that the Ministry of Education just decided this the day before school started.

So much for trying to coordinate my mom’s visit. (Yes, mom, I am still taking time off work and we will keep the kids home so they can visit properly with you.)

“You could have called the school,” I blamed my husband this morning when he got the “official” announcement in his email inbox.

Huh, what are you talking about?, his look said back to me.

“Don’t you see? This is my life here,” I wailed at him this morning before he left for a meeting. “Half the time I feel like a moron and the other half I feel like an imbecile!!! Maybe you should take pity on me! Moving to Israel made me stupid!”

“On your walk to your meeting,” I spat at him with venom (but really sadness and frustration), “think about that! Spend some time thinking about what it must feel like to be ME! Stupid, stupid me!” (The words I actually used were a little more foul, but the above is basically what I meant.)

In a moment of brilliant patience and kindness, my husband kept his mouth shut, nodded, and walked out the door. Whether or not he actually spent time pitying me on his way to work is another issue.

I was blessed with a quiet house in the hour after he left. My oldest kid was out at a friend’s house and the two little ones were in Gan. I spent this luxurious hour sulking, cleaning my dirty house, sulking, putting in some dirty laundry, and catching up on the lives of my far-away friends through their posts on Facebook.

While scanning the Facebook updates from Hurricane Irene-damaged New Jersey (and still selfishly sulking), I was fortunate enough to find a video link in my News Feed from my FB friend Carol, a veteran American immigrant to Israel who I’ve never met in real life. The video she posted reminded me of something very important; something that wiped the sulk away and replaced it with a guilty sigh.

In between the moments I feel like a moron and the moments I feel like an imbecile, I actually feel alive. More alive than before. More connected to myself, my kids, my husband, my community, my planet.

It’s my acknowledgment of and addiction to this feeling that makes the stupid bearable. It makes me want to stay, instead of leave.

True, when I lived in New Jersey, when I had my own business, when I was considered a community leader and an educator, when I was writing for important publications and being interviewed by journalists, I felt like a smart Somebody. It was a really good feeling.  But, in truth, what was attached to that feeling of being smart was a compelling need to constantly know more and do more. To research, to learn and to share. Naturally, I was addicted to my computer, to my BlackBerry, and to social media outlets. In order to maintain my competitive edge in that space, I had to be turned on all the time.

All the time.

What were the consequences of being turned on all the time?

You know what they are. Think about your irritation when your husband interrupts you when you are in the middle of an email; or the compelling urge to check Facebook while you are sitting at a table in the Food Court across from your son; or the panic you feel when your internet isn’t working.

My life here has allowed me (forced me?) to disconnect. Not completely, obviously, but significantly.

And, suddenly, I remember there’s a good side to being Stupid.

Culture, Education, Family

The immigrant mother goes to school

When we began seriously considering making Aliyah, one of the obvious concerns I had was regarding our kids’ transitions into new schools. We loved our children’s preschool in N.J. and both of our preschoolers were in the middle of fantastic years with loving teachers. Our oldest son was in the middle of 2nd grade with a teacher who adored him and encouraged him, at a school that just hired a vibrant, energetic principal who was making positive changes. We were (I was) afraid to rock the boat.

 On top of the typical transitional concerns of moving schools and moving countries, we were debating whether or not to move to Israel in December, during Winter Break in the U.S., or to wait until summer. When a rental on Hannaton became available in October (for a January move-in), we felt the need to decide.

In general, most of the “experts” we spoke to (ie. Nefesh B’Nefesh/Jewish Agency/child psychology professionals) agreed that a move during the summer would be ideal for our kids. In this optimal scenario, the children would finish the school year in the States and start the new school year in Israel with the rest of their peers in September after adjusting over the summer to the new community and culture.

Well, as is typical when my husband and I make big decisions, we decided to buck the system. We moved in December – and our kids entered their classes in the middle of the school year.

But, you know what, future olim? Despite the warnings and concerns, I think it was the best decision we could have made for them.

Perhaps, it might have been more difficult for kids with different personalities or needs. But for our family, it actually worked. And, in retrospect, moving in January turned out to be better for us than moving in August would have!

Since our oldest was excelling academically (insert bragging moment:  he was reading in English above his grade level), we comfortably encouraged him to focus his early school efforts here in Israel mostly on learning Hebrew and making friends, rather than on academics. Bottom line: We weren’t too worried that he was working in the first grade workbook while his classmates were in the 2nd grade workbook, as long as he left in the morning and came home happy. The stretch from January to June, in our minds, was designated a “get adjusted period;” with July and August as a summer breather.

We applied the same thinking to our 2 and 5 year olds. Now, post adjustment period, the two year old is practically caught up. The middle guy, who took the longest to adjust, is fortunate to return again this year to his multi-age classroom, now  as a part of the older, experienced group.  Were we lucky? Or did we accidentally make a really good decision?

I am not sure, but today, on their first day back at school, my children no longer look or act like the new immigrant kids in the middle of “klita,” but veterans.

Not so their mother.

(Cue pout.)

I’ve still got immigrant written all over my face.

Last week, before school started for my now third grader, we were invited to a back-to-school Open House evening during which we could meet privately with my son’s new teacher and with the other parents in the class.

I normally love these type events.

I love them.

As a “mindful mama,” I am very involved in my children’s education and I am always very interested in the teacher’s technique and style.

Let me be perfectly clear: How my child experiences school is very important to me.

Therefore, up until now, I’ve been the “school parent” – the one who sits on committees, and meets attentively with the teacher during conferences. The one who files away report cards along with the special drawings and milestone achievements. I’ve participated in “special meetings” behind the scenes with school community leaders. I’ve donated my time to parent-run after school activities. I’m a presence at my child’s school – intentionally. I feel my presence is necessary in an age where public education is not set up to holistically meet our children’s individual needs. I accept this challenge and welcome it.

And now, I am powerless (or, more accurately, language-less) to meet that challenge.

This feeling of helplessness goes against my nature, as anyone who has been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of my “Everything Is a Choice” lecture will tell you.

The bottom line of my lecture? We human beings are never powerless. We are always making choices. Sometimes we choose between good and bad. Sometimes we choose between bad and worse. Sometimes, when we are very lucky, we get to choose between good and even better.

And our family has made some choices:

  1. To move to Israel where they speak Hebrew;
  2. To move to the North where English is not the first nor second spoken language (like in Jerusalem), but the third; and
  3. For me to forgo an intensive language ulpan to instead work full time at a company where I may speak English every day.

These were our choices, which we made willingly (and even excitedly).
But these choices are difficult to acknowledge when I am filled with bitter mom resignation and have tears of frustration streaming down my cheeks.

As you might imagine, at the school open house I did not volunteer for any committees, nor did I stay to listen to the teacher’s speech about her educational and disciplinary style when she shared it during the parent meeting. Instead, I resentfully banished myself outside to watch my two little ones who were  hyped up on the sugar and artificial food coloring from the taffy candy the teacher gave out at the beginning of her talk. Like their little friends, they ran around the brick walkway barefoot (despite my warnings and yells) while I sulked.

Why should I bother to stay, I thought. I’m not going to understand what the teacher says anyway. And even if I do understand a little, I won’t adequately be able to express my questions or concerns to her. And even if I can express myself even a little, all the other parents will just think I am too strict or too involved or too American.

Boo hoo hoo. Poor me.

(Later my husband would give me the Cliff Notes version of the teacher’s talk which he may or may not have doctored to make me feel better. Because the picture he painted of my son’s teacher — inspired and patient, but tough– did in fact make me feel better.)

So, instead of engaging at all, I sat by myself on the expansive patio in between the school buildings, and swallowed my bitterness until my friend Ian came along and coaxed the disappointment (and tears) out of me with a kind question and compassionate eyes. Though he has been in Israel a little bit longer than I have, and his Hebrew is stronger than mine, Ian can also relate to what it feels like to be an outsider in this country. His was a good shoulder to subtly weep on. And all he could do was nod in sympathy, and tell me it would (most likely, but not for sure) get better.

Kind and compassionate friends is the only happy ending to this story. And, if I am lucky enough to keep them despite my sour puss, my kind and compassionate friends will continue to be the soul bright spot in the ongoing lamentations of this immigrant mother until more time passes, more opportunities arise, and more choices are made.

My fellow immigrant mother friends all assure me “It Gets Better.”  I have hope that this blog will one day be a testament to that.