Culture, Family, Health, Middle East Conflict, Politics


As I was getting my kids into the bath last night, I heard a helicopter fly by close over our house. And I didn’t jump or startle.

I must be getting used to Israel.

When we first moved here, I jumped at every little sound: Not just the military helicopters flying by, but any loud booming noise; of which there are many in rural Northern Israel. Sometimes the sound comes from a digger breaking ground on a new lot; sometimes it’s an invisible jet soaring by, leaving a sonic boom in its wake and shaking the windows “The Right Stuff” style. Sometimes it’s just a tractor trailer driving by on its way to deliver petrol or chickens.

When we first moved here, I did a lot of pretending. Pretending like I didn’t worry about terrorist attacks or war. It wasn’t strategic or intentional pretending, mind you, and I was never actively scared to live here. It was the kind of pretending young women do when they choose to walk home by themselves from the club on Avenue A at one o’clock in the morning. You know that it’s both unlikely and yet still possible that you will get raped or mugged. But you have calculated the odds manually in your head, and counted the spare change in your wallet, and decided that walking home is your best bet.

Israel seemed like a good bet for us, despite the possibilities of terrorism or war.

But still, before I got a job, I was home a lot during the day…and jumpy. One day, a small propeller plane flew so close to my house I could see the pilot’s face. He flew across my street and back again. I tried to keep my panic in check for a few minutes as I carefully observed his flight pattern, but after about 5 flybys, I frantically called my friend Shira, who lived down the street, and who was already by that time a veteran olah. When she didn’t answer the phone, I ran down the street in my flip flops, covering my head with my hands, hoping to avoid the spray of bullets or heavy metal things he might drop out the window of his plane.

“Do you see that plane flying by?” I shouted to her before she opened the front door. She said she saw it, but without much trace of worry in her voice.

“What is it doing here? Why is flying over our houses?” I asked her.

“I think it’s spraying the wheat,” she replied. “But I’ll call the security guy.” The security guy confirmed that yes indeed the plane was there to spray the wheat fields adjacent to our homes with pesticides. We had nothing to worry about, he said, except poison exposure. (Emphasis mine, of course.)


If my friend Shira was not as kind as she is, she would tell you about the other time I freaked out; when I made her hide behind a tractor to avoid the creepy-looking, strung out guy driving around our neighborhood aimlessly. I was convinced he was hiding an Uzi beneath his seat, hunting for some Jews to kill.

Or the other time I freaked out; when I ran to my de facto shelter because they were making announcements over the loudspeaker and I couldn’t hear, let alone understand, what they were saying repetitively in Hebrew. In my imagination, it was surely, “Run! Rockets are falling!” But, in reality, turned out to be “Blood drive today! Blood drive today!”

It’s not that I’m no longer jumpy. The other day, in fact, I literally jumped twice in one day: Once when thunder boomed over head and shook the windows. (I think, in general, windows are crap here in Israel.) And the second time, when I was about the fall asleep and my daughter’s balloon popped in the kitchen. I didn’t run to the shelter, but I easily lost 5 or 6 years from my life thanks to that scare.

I suppose I have become, for the most part, desensitized to the regular military drills that happen and general presence in and around Israel.

I imagine it’s this same desensitization that allows me to  casually ignore headlines like “Will Israel attack Iran?” and “Officials to discuss Israel-Iran showdown.”

I wonder about myself sometimes, though. Am I in denial? Stupid? Numb? Crazy?

And then I think about the fact that I used to live six minutes from one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S. — Newark, NJ. That muggings, drug deals and murders took place, literally sometimes, ten blocks away from my kids’ synagogue preschool, which sits on the border between South Orange and Newark, NJ. In fact, many of us New Jersey natives grew up only minutes away from some of the country’s most crime-ridden cities: Camden, Elizabeth, Paterson.

Is my life in Israel all that more dangerous?

Sure there’s tension, conflict, terrorism, really terrible drivers. But none of those things detract from the every day life stuff like homework, exams, chores, errands, my awesome sex life, mortgage, car repairs, illness, wellness, office politics, reality TV. The same stuff that distracts Americans from the dangers in their own backyards.

We humans have a lot to worry about: Purim costumes, for instance, and taxes and mammograms.

I can’t see spending much time worrying about Iran unless you’re paying me to.

I know it’s easy for me to say. I haven’t lived in Israel during an active time of war. I haven’t sent a kid off to the army. I haven’t been in the army myself. But I get the sense that even for those of my friends who have, and who do, the answer remains the same.

Life goes on here. There is only so much room in the human heart for worry.

Culture, Environment, Family, Food

Angry mom

This was originally posted as my alter ego, “The Wellness Bitch.” Please take that into consideration as you read it. The WB posts with a slightly different tone. Considering the relevance to my Aliyah experience here in Israel, however, I choose to re-post it, despite the chance that it might incite my friends and alienate my neighbors.

With any luck, though, maybe a few of you will join me in a “Makolet Ban” or an “Anti-Makolet March” or at the very least, one “No Makolet Day” each year. 

I feel blessed in my life for the moms who get it. I’m glad for the ones I’ve met in real life and the ones I have come to know and love virtually.

It’s these moms — the ones who struggle day in and day out to provide their families with their version of “healthy” despite society’s constant roadblocks — that bring me back down off the angry ledge. It’s these fellow moms who struggle as hard as I do; who understand the often daily battles I fight with myself and my kids. The struggle between giving my kids what they want and giving them what I think they need. The struggle between saying yes and saying no. The struggle between choosing to fight a battle and choosing to lose it. The struggle between choosing easy and choosing hard.

I need such a support group desperately here, in my real life community, where I am forced to make choices all the time between what I know is right for my kids and what other moms let their kids get away with.

I’m feeling very, very “angry mom” lately.

Here, in the small community in Israel where I live, there is so much I love. But what I hate to my utter core is the “makolet.”

The makolet is basically a corner grocery store. The Israel equivalent of a NYC bodega. Internally, I like to call it “the kiddie crack house.” Sure, conceptually, it’s nice to know I can run up the hill for a carton of eggs or a package of baking powder, but 99% of the time, it’s the bane of my existence here and representative of something I really can’t stand about Israel: For as advanced as this country is, it is still very far behind in the healthy eating revolution, and in denial that what you feed your kids contributes to their physical and emotional well-being.

Israel's national snack food, bamba

Every day here, it seems, the average Israeli child walks out from his preschool and is taken by the hand to the makolet where the average Israeli parent buys his child the average Israeli after-school snack — namely a popsicle, a chocolate milk, a snack pack of peanut butter puffed corn, yogurt topped with candy or just plain candy.

It’s the Wellness Bitch’s worst nightmare. Can you imagine?

A family "favorite"

For over a year, I’ve tried to make peace with the makolet. My husband and I have tried various incentive plans to get our kids on board with the idea that we don’t feed them makolet crack every day. These are kids who, up until a year ago, were happy to get candy once a month at a birthday party, and whose daily sweet treats included an organic sandwich cookie or a beet-colored fruit roll up. Now, these kids can be seen walking once a week clutching a bag of “Kliks,” slurping on sour gummy worms, or sucking down a spray bottle filled with the EU version of Red #40.

We’ve tried “Makolet Day,” one day a week when our kids get to pick something from the little store. But one “Makolet Day” a week suddenly turns into three when Saba comes to visit, or when the 3-year-old goes home with a different parent for a playdate and the two kids wind up sucking down “Shock-o,” the  chocolate milk drink packaged in sports bottles mechanically engineered for preschoolers’ tiny mouths. “Makolet Day” becomes a way of life here when my kids are treated to a “krembo” by their teachers or tutors or soccer coaches for doing a job well done. “Makolet Day” in not just a day here when it’s piled upon birthday parties and holiday celebrations and kiddushim, for which the focal point is sugary, processed crap masquerading as food.

Yesterday, I lost it because my daughter walked out from preschool with a snack bag full of candy thanks to an in-school birthday party (which they seem to have twice a month here). I told her she could have the birthday candy or “Makolet Day,” not both. She agreed. She proceeded to eat a handful of m-n-m’s and then ran to the makolet to pick out

"Krembo" the Israeli chocolate coconut cream treat

her weekly treat. When I reminded her of our agreement, she had a meltdown. That melt-down turned into a kicking and screaming performance for all my friends and neighbors (Did I imagine the tongues clicking in compassion for my daughter ?)

As I buckled her into her car seat, I screamed out loud in frustration to her and her two brothers, “That is it! No more makolet! I hate the makolet. I hate it so much I am going to come here in the middle of the night and spray graffiti all over the makolet! Do you hear me?? Graffiti!!!!”

Don’t you love days like that? When you are so angry, and yet so defeated, that graffiti is your best threat? (What would I even write? “F-off Makolet?” “Die, Makolet, Die?” And, really, how long would it take before they discovered the English expletives belonged to me?)

Don’t you love it when, in an effort to do right by your kids, you completely do wrong?

Don’t you love it when their meltdowns produce your meltdowns?

Somebody, please hand me a Krembo.

For years, I was luckier than I realized. I had a built-in community and support system in New Jersey. I lived in an educated, middle to upper middle class, health conscious neighborhood. I had a Whole Foods Market ten minutes to the West and one ten minutes to the East. I had a “Holistic Moms” network nearby, five yoga studios to choose from, a “green thumb” and a “wellness” committee at my kids’ schools.

For all that I gained when I moved to a small, country kibbutz in Israel, I lost that wellness-focused community.

And now I have two choices: I can stay angry or I can build…community, that is.

I do both really, really well.

I simply need to choose now, as we all do at some point, which one serves me best.

I recently mentioned to the members of my bi-weekly woman’s group that I think it’s time I start speaking up — getting “my leader on,” so to speak. On the one hand, it’s been nice living in my bubble, the one in which I pretend like I don’t have much of an opinion and don’t have experience leading community efforts for change.

Inside this bubble, I’ve allowed “little Hebrew” to become synonymous for “little voice.”

But the truth is, I have a voice. And it’s loud. And it’s lonely hiding here inside the bubble.

Environment, Kibbutz

The green Zionist in me

Even though it’s officially more than a year since we made Aliyah, I just now feel as if one full cycle is complete.

My first real memory of our first real family experience  here in Israel (one that didn’t involve a government agency) is of Tu B’Shevat.

A week or two after we moved into our house on Hannaton, there was a Tu B’Shevat celebration for children that included arts and craft activities, picking up litter around the grounds, and planting new flowers. I look at the few pictures my friend Shira took of my kids and realize how far they, and we, have come since then. How little, and how American, they were then. And how big, and how Israeli, they have become in just one year.

Evidence of this is not just in their ability to speak Hebrew almost fluently, but in their transformation into real Israeli children.

My children dance when there is rain; my children sing with joy that Tu B’shevat has arrived; and they can identify not just dried fruits and nuts, but also leaves and trees by their Hebrew names. (When I compare what I know about our natural habitat to what they know, I am comforted in knowing that if the economy collapses and we need to depend on our local vegetation for food, they’ll know which ones are edible and which ones are poison.)

The other day, my middle son was home sick from school, but not sick enough for us not to take advantage of the brief break in the rain and to stroll around Hannaton admiring the blossoming trees and snapping photos of the ones tagged with signs in honor of Tu B’shevat. It was a fun mini scavenger hunt for us, and a brief eco-lesson.

When I think of my experience of  Tu B’Shevat growing up in the States, I remember a minor holiday celebrated at Hebrew School. I remember coloring in a line art cartoon drawing of a young Israeli pioneer child standing next to a pine tree and bringing home a certificate marking the planting of one by JNF in Israel.

I admit I get a little bit excited that my children are those pioneer children — minus the vintage overalls and cotton baseball cap. Even though it’s 2012 (and not 1948), my children’s hands are dirtied with Israeli soil, their voices sing with pride, and their hearts are filled with the love of Israeli land.

Eshkolit, Grapefruit