Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Welcome Shevet Lehava

Saturday night marked the end of Bnei Akiva's Shabbat Irgun which is the culmination of the month long Chodesh Irgun. Bnei Akiva is a religious zionist youth movement which is active worldwide. I was never involved with Bnei Akiva when I was a kid but because my best friend was very into it, I wound up going on Mach Hach b'kibbutz after 10th grade and on Hachshara after high school. Eventually, it was through Bnei Akiva that I met Arthur and the rest as they say is history. 
In Israel, Bnei Akiva is more political than it is abroad, and is the major though not the only youth movement for religious kids. Once all the holidays are over and the kids can get a routine going in school, Bnei Akiva embarks on Chodesh Irgun (Organization Month), to ensure that not too much learning takes place before the next big vacation (Chanuka). Baila described Chodesh Irgun as a month long color war but in fact it's more educational and is always centered on a theme, this year's being "למען שמו באהבה" or "For Hashem's name, in love."

A festive Shabbat Irgun (which on Zufim included a special misheberach during Torah reading by the gabay for the Bnei Akiva chanichim and madrichim) marks the end of the month long activities, followed by a performance with flags (daglanut) by the 9th graders who will be getting their permanent shevet name, the ceremony where each age group (shevet) ascends to the next shevet, the bestowing of the name of the new shevet, and performances by all the age groups. This year Maor is in 9th grade and a member of the newest shevet, Lehava. Lehava means flame and as the secretary general of Bnei Akiva, Rabbi Benny Nechteiler, said in his remarks "An everlasting fire burns in the heart of the youth, a fire of love for Hashem, the nation, and the country...your name expresses the power of love burning in the hearts and striving to exist through Torah and Avoda for Hashem's sake." Lehava   is also an acronym for לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה (Next year in a rebuilt Jerusalem).

After being told their shevet name which is usually a closely guarded secret but for some reason was widely known this year, the kids get sweatshirts which were designed by their madrichim (counselors) and this is the detail of Maor's which reads: FLAME - because you don't mess with fire.


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chodesh tov!

The last few weeks have held exciting developments for me - I completed my master's degree in library and information science AND I found a job! Remarkably enough both things happened within the same 24 hours!

It's a great feeling to know I finished all the coursework for my degree and now I just need to wait for the paperwork to go through until I get the actual diploma. I originally planned/hoped to finish my degree while in California but I took on too much my last semester and wasn't able to complete my final culminating project, the e-portfolio. Then I was worried that I wouldn't actually finish it at all - I have this bad habit of not seeing things through to the end but I had a lot of encouragement from friends, family, schoolmates, and my advisor and I managed to finish with time to spare (very unlike me, the queen of procrastination). 

That same week, I had 3 job interviews lined up, all through the help of friends. I know that once you actually get the interview it's up to you but I find it extremely frustrating that it's so difficult to get that first foot in the door without protektzia (n. personal connections, or as they say in Hebrew: מי שיש לו קשרים לא צריך פרוטקציה). 

The job I accepted is not in the library or information field which is a bit of a bummer but it is related to the clinical trial field which was my second choice. I am a logistics coordinator at a company that provides logistic services to international companies performing clinical trials in Israel. The people, including the boss, are really nice and very welcoming and I'm hoping that it will be a good fit.

Image courtesy of I-Heart-God

Arthur is still job hunting and it's very difficult and frustrating though we're trying to stay upbeat and optimistic. He's had some interviews and I'm hoping that something pans out.

This coming Shabbat is Bnei Akiva's Shabbat Irgun, which ends chodesh irgun. If you're not familiar with these terms, you can get explanations at I'll call Baila or West Bank Mama. This year is particularly significant for us as Maor is in 9th grade and will therefore be receiving her shevet name, which accompanies you forever. As Uri Orbach so eloquently puts it in his book, What shevet are you in (באיזה שבט אתה, ספריית בית אל):

גם כשתהייה זקן בעוד 80 שנה  
גם כשתהייה כפוף בעזרת הנכדה הקטנה
גם כשכבר לא תוכל לראות בלי משקפיים
גם כשתתחיל לשכחו איפה הנחת את השיניים
גם כשלגמריי תשכח מקומות אירוכים ואנשים שלמדו איתך בכיתה
תמיד תזכור מיד
באיזה שבט אתה!

Even when you'll be old in another 80 years
Even when you'll be bent over with the help of your small granddaughter
Even when you won’t be able to see without glasses
Even when you start forgetting where you left your teeth
Even when you completely forget long ago places and people who learned with you in school
You’ll always immediately remember
What shevet you’re in!

Chodesh tov!


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Meet the blogger

On Saturday night, October 17th, I attended a blogger's night out that was organized by Hannah who blogs at A Mother in Israel and Cooking Manager (ooh, ambitious) and hosted by Mimi of Israeli Kitchen. You can read Hannah's account of the evening here and Mimi's account here, as well as read what One Tired Ema, Risa (aka Isramom), Baila of I'll call Baila (note the apostrophe please), Commenter Abbi (who brings you Confessions of a startup wife), and Robin from Around the Island had to say about the evening. Others who attended but did not blog about the event are the Baroness Tapuzina, Sarah from Food Bridge, Pesky Settler who's In the middle. On the right, Sarah of Oh so arty, and the xy chromosomed representatives, David of the Terror Finance blog, and Jonathan of Shomer Shekalim

Hannah said something which gave me the idea to showcase some of the blogs I follow. If you look to the right you'll see my blogroll  divided by theme and though it seems incredibly long, those are only some of the 175 (!) blogs I actually follow in my Google reader. I know though that you can't really look at that long list and easily say, hm this one looks interesting, so I decided to choose some of my favorites and highlight them for you. If possible, I'll try to include a short interview with the person behind the blog.

I can't remember how I first became aware of Jonathan Degani's blog, Shomer Shekalim,  but it was  most likely a link from another blog I read. Jonathan is an American oleh who blogs about budgeting and living within your means in Israel and is highly recommended for anyone living in Israel (or planning to make aliyah), no matter how long you've been here.

Jonathan graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions so without further ado,Heeere's Johnny!

1. Tell us a bit about yourself. 
I am an American Oleh from NY and Chicago. When I made Aliyah, I decided to go to business school and was met with a financial crash 20 minutes after graduating. Since then I have been building a system of budgeting that has helped me budget my way through this recession. I am now following my new calling to help others learn to live within their means and find happiness in moderation in life.

2.  How long have you been blogging?
Back in high school, my friends and I would blog in a livejournal group.  I left blogging for several years until I used it once again to document my time in the IDF.  I only started blogging about finance and budgeting about 5 months ago.

3. Why did you start blogging about finance and budgeting?
The idea originally came when I asked my Rav if I could give ma’aser with my own professional time if I could not afford to give money.  He said “yes” and so I dedicated 4 hours a week to trying to help others with money issues in Israel.  Since then I have used blogging as a wonderful tool to use to interact with others.  I enjoy talking with other American Olim.

4. What are your goals for your blog?
 When I came to Yeshiva in Israel years ago, I noticed something strange. Most items in Israel cost about the same as they do in the US, yet Israelis live on a lot less.  How could they do it?  It is not a simple answer, and in my mind, it is one of the issues that American Olim struggle with the most.  My goal is to try to help Olim adjust to life here and break out of a “consumerism” mentality that American put them in. 

5. What goes into the preparation of a typical post?
Depends on the post.  When I make a list (how to save on shopping, vacations, holidays) I write a list as a document and leave it on my desktop for a few days to add to it when I have the time or when I think of something.  When I write an argument or economic analysis, I go through the old essay style of preparation and research.  Alternatively, some posts are just off the cuff stories of economic survival that came across my eye that I try to use to illustrate a point.

6. What blog post are you proudest of and why?
I have two favorites:
How to pay less for your purchases despite the increase in VAT and How to save 1000 NIS on your next vacation.  I think that these two posts exemplify my goal in blogging.  They are simple ways to learn how to switch to a more frugal mindset.

7. What have been some of the highlights of blogging for you?
Arutz Sheva did a cover story about my blog when I wrote about saving money for Rosh Hashannah; I guess every blogger likes to be noticed.  But by far the greatest highlights come from interactive talkback and encouraging feedback from the readers.  It makes me feel like I am making a difference and serves as a major source of encouragement. 

8. Anything else you want to share with readers?
The most important thing you do in life is interact with people you care about.  At the core of frugality is reallocating time and money to what is important.  We often get caught up in the technological buzz of only approaching one another via e-mail and checking on one another through status updates and twitter.  These tools are nice, but without seeing a person, hearing a voice, and regular interaction, the internet becomes a cold world.  When you value what is truly important, you may find that you are richer than you thought.  

I just want to add that I enjoyed Jonathan's posts on celebrating the holidays on a low budget, including Rosh Hashana and Sukkot, and look forward to what he has to say about Chanuka (no pressure, Jonathan!). And since both Arthur and I are job hunting (not fun!) I've appreciated Jonathan's series on job searching in Israel - part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4

Although I hope the economy improves I hope Jonathan will continue to supply us with tips on managing financially in Israel. You should definitely add Shomer Shekalim to the blogs you follow, and if you don't read blogs, Shomer Shekalim is the place to start!

Money Grab 2, by Steve Wampler, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license


Sunday, October 25, 2009

The winter is heating up for e-book readers

Amazon isn't going to be rolling over for the nook or any other ebook readers. In November, Amazon plans to release a free software application that will allow people to read Amazon ebooks on their computers. According to the LA Times, the software will run on Microsoft's new Windows 7 as well as the older Vista and XP, expanding Amazon's customer base exponentially.

In January, at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Plastic Logic will unveil the QUE. The QUE is geared toward businesspeople and will support PDF, Word, PowerPoint, and Excel and "features the largest touchscreen in the industry." 

In February, Entourage will start shipping the eDGe, a dual ebook reader with a netbook on one side and an e-reader on the other. According to Fast Company, the eDGe will support the open e-Pub standard and read PDFs. And via ghacks, I learned that the eDGe has a webcam and microphone, built in speakers, allows you to browse the internet and write e-mails, and supports Mp3, MP4 and 3GP file formats. It also comes with a hefty price tag of $490, more than $200 above the price of the Kindle or the nook.

One thing seems to be certain - we'll be seeing more and more manufacturers coming out with e-book readers as the market heats up. According to Forrester Research, 3 million e-readers will be sold in 2009 and up to 10 million will be sold in 2010 (via Read Write Web).

If you're confused by all this talk about e-readers, check out this cool graphic on TechFlash of the ebook universe, as it is today.

(Hat tip to Helene Blowers of LibraryBytes for the info which inspired and informed this post.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Barnes & Noble VS. Amazon - meet the nook

Meet the nook. Yesterday afternoon Barnes & Noble held a coming out party (in NY of course) for its ebook reader, nook, which can be pre-ordered for delivery in November. Amazon definitely has the better name (nook takes me to places I'm not going to mention on a PG-rated family blog) but other than that, it looks like B&N is going to give Amazon a run for its money. 

One of the biggest differences between the nook and the Kindle, according to Wired and  Read Write Web is nook's LendMe feature, which will allow users to share a book with a friend for up to 14 days. And that friend doesn't need to own a nook; any smartphone or computer with B&N's ereader software will do.

The nook also supports epub, an open format which will give users access to thousands of free e-books, and though I haven't seen anything yet about reading library ebooks on the nook, it seems that if the ebook is in PDF format, it would work on the nook. 

The nook is priced at $259, as is the Kindle, still a hefty amount of money for a luxury. One advantage the Kindle still has is that Amazon came out with an international version that can be shipped to users outside the U.S., though it's not available in Israel. 

The nook has a small color touchscreen for navigation and a removable back panel that you can customize with four other colors. From November 30th, you can test drive a nook at your local B&N.

You can view a comparison of features between the Kindle and nook on the B&N site. 

In more ebook news, the Internet Archive,  a non-profit organization based in San Francisco which is building an online library, announced the creation of Bookserver, an open system to allow users to find ebooks to buy or borrow. According to Read Write Web, you could search for a book and find out all the places where the books is available to buy or borrow, including libraries and directly from the publishers. 

I enjoy watching these new developments in the world of ebooks. I love all the new ways it's now possible to read or listen to a book and can't wait to see what else the future holds.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Google editions or why I'm glad I haven't bought a Kindle yet

(Please click on the photo to see the full size comic on Milt Priggee's Web site)

If you follow my blog (and if you don't, why not) then you know that before we returned to Israel from California I debated about getting a Kindle. Of course, right before we left the states Amazon lowered the price of the Kindle making me very tempted to buy one but in the end I decided against it. One reason is that at $259 it is still expensive for an indulgence that is not a necessity and that I can't use on Shabbat (when I do the bulk of my reading) but the even greater deterrent is the whole digital rights management (DRM) issue. DRM is how companies protect content and restrict its use. They use a proprietary format that can only be used with their firmware, as in the case of the music downloaded from Apple's iTunes store which could only be played on Apple products before they started offering DRM free music this year.

When I want to read a book I have the option of borrowing it from the library or a friend, buying it new from a bricks and mortar store or an online shop, or buying or mooching it secondhand. If I've bought it, when I'm done with it I can do what I please with it. Loan it to a friend, donate it to the library, swap it, or leave it on my shelf so if I feel like it I can read it again. And again.

Not so with an Amazon e-book. There's a limit on how many times you can download an Amazon e-book that you've paid for before Amazon forces you to pay for it again. That's what Dan Cohen found out to his surprise when he tried to move some of his books to his new iPhone via the Kindle app. And after talking to a customer representative he discovered that "there’s no way to find out in advance how many times a book is able to be downloaded." 

And with the Kindle you're limited as to what books you can read. You have to buy them from Amazon. You can't download an e-book from your library and read it on  your Kindle. There is a hack to allow you to read MobiPocket books on your Kindle but Amazon threatened to sue the site which linked to it.

With the Kindle, you can't share your e-books with friends. So even though you've bought the book and it's supposedly yours, you can't do what you'd like with it. Not only that, in July, Amazon really brought this fact home when they remotely deleted George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from users' Kindles (ah, the irony)

So I decided to wait and see what develops in the e-reader market before shelling out a few hundred dollars for a Kindle. And I've been heartened by the articles I've been seeing about other alternatives to the Kindle, including the iRex the cool-er, Plastic Logic, Cybook, and the Sony Reader.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, Google announced that they will launch an e-store, Google Editions, that will offer electronic books that can be read on ANY web enabled device including laptops, smart phones, and e-readers. Consumers will have the option of buying the book directly from Google Books, from a retailer, or from the publisher. This will give users freedom to buy from whomever they please and read it however they please. Once the book has been accessed once, you'll be able to read it offline.

If you're not sure that e-books are for you, and you want to just stick with the paper version, check out the NY Times commentary, Does the brain like e-books, in which five professionals weigh in on whether reading is different when done on paper or a screen.

As for me and my Kindle, I'm still going to watch and wait but I am looking forward to the new developments that seem just around the corner.

(Please click on the photo to see the full size comic on the Social Signal Web site)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

That Was The Week That Was

Tomorrow begins the Israeli season officially known as "acharei hachagim." Nothing much happens in Israel beginning in mid-August when any arrangements you managed to find for your kids ends and people go on vacation as they attempt to survive the last weeks of summer vacation and ending when the fall holidays are over (even though the kids don't go back to school till Monday).

Hopefully, job hunting (or job finding) will get easier though Arthur gets annoyed at me when I say that. But I'm optimistic (hard to believe, but true) and wanted to share some of my reflections about our Sukkot holiday.

First of all, only one day of chag!!!!! Can I say it again? Shout it from the rooftops? It is so great to have one day of chag and not be penalized for living in galut (Yes, that's right. As good as you think you have it you are in galut). It's weird to think that in our old community of San Jose they are not even done with shul yet on their first day of chag while here hakafot shniyot with a live band are in full swing (pun intended).

We were home for the first days of sukkot and our sukkah went up in record time thanks to the help of our neighbors. We were invited out for both meals and had a great time at both meals.

Although Arthur would probably disagree, one nice thing about being unemployed is that we were both at home during chol hamoed, which doesn't usually happen. This gave us the opportunity to visit friends and family and tour the country a bit. On Sunday evening we headed to Yokneam for a barbecue with friends, one couple we've known from our days on Kibbutz Beit Rimon and a couple from San Jose who made aliyah 2 years ago. It was great seeing them all again (and borrowing some books of course) and catching up. Both friends have businesses and web presences, so if you're in the need of a live band or DJ check out the Joel Abramson Simcha Orchestra and if you're looking for silk rose petals, spices, gifts from Israel, or pearls and semi-precious stones check out HolyRoses.

Monday we met Arthur's cousin in Beit Guvrin and checked out the many caves before heading to Beit Shemesh for pizza followed by Shemeshfest. We ran into some old friends, enjoyed the music, and headed home tired and satisfied.

Tuesday we headed to Akko with our neighbors where I stupidly managed to get lost and missed out on most of the fun but I think Maor had a good time.

Wednesday Maor and I headed to Nes Harim for a barbecue picnic with my aunt and cousins (Arthur wasn't feeling well and stayed home). It was great to hang out, eat, and celebrate my aunt's birthday (ad 120!) together.

We headed to Beerot Yitzchak for Simchat Torah, an almost annual tradition. Hosted by my best friend, Esti, who I've known forever (since first grade - you do the math), we also got to see people we haven't seen for a long while. I spent my year after high school on Hachshara on Beerot so it's always nice to go back. We got back to Zufim in time for hakafot shniyot and will take down the sukkah tomorrow. Maor already has plans for tomorrow, her last day of chofesh (vacation) before school starts up again.

For those of you not on Facebook, here's a link to some pictures from our Sukkot adventures.

Being back after 3 years in the states made me aware of some of the things I love about living in Israel. Not huge cataclysmic things, just small mundane ones.
1. The news broadcasts begin with "moadim l'simcha"
2. The electronic highway signs that announce traffic jams also wish me a happy holiday
3. National parks and restaurants put up sukkot so their patrons can eat there
4. Local councils and cities trim palm trees so people can take live schach (and sometimes dates) for their sukkot
5. Not only did the rock and soul concert at Beit Shemesh include a dvar Torah, the Rabbi who delivered it also had the crowd repeat a prayer for Gilad Shalit's release

If you haven't had the opportunity to spend Sukkot in Israel, I hope next year finds you here celebrating with us. Or even better, consider Aliyah today!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Shana tova

Our first holiday back in Israel, Rosh Hashana, is almost here, and even though it’s a two day holiday even in Israel I’m glad that we’ll be celebrating here. There’s something special about knowing that most of the country is celebrating along with you (each in their own fashion), having supermarket cashiers wish you a “chag sameach” or “shana tova” and being able to find all the unique foods you need (for simanim) with little effort.

Job hunting is going very slowly and is very frustrating, particularly for Arthur, as you can imagine. I’m hoping it’s due to the chagim and the Israeli way of doing things (hurry up and advertise, go out of town for two weeks, decide when you come back if you really need the position filled after all). We send out lots of resumes and get little feedback and it’s very difficult. I’ve told Arthur that I’m going to send him to kollel just to get him out of the house.

Maor is doing well, B”H. She likes her class and teachers and besides the awful 6am wake up time so she can make the bus at 6:50 seems happy to go. Ulpanat Lehava, in Kedumim, seems to invest a lot not only in the girls’ educational experience but the social experience as well. On the first day of classes they had a performance by Eti Ankari, an Israeli musician who found her way back to religion. She spoke about her experience and also sang both new and old songs, including מיליונים, a favorite.

This Monday night the 9th and 10th grade classes went on a tiyul slichot to Yerushalayim. They began in Kever Rachel where they davened mincha before heading out to Yerushalayim. They then had a performance by Miri Or, another Israeli musician who became religious. This was followed by a walking tour of the Jewish Quarter and a final stop at the kotel (where it was still too early for slichot) before heading home (arrival: 2:30am). Tuesday morning Maor woke up early (!) and went to the beach with two friends. After getting thoroughly tan sunburned they went and hung out at the Ra’anana mall and arrived home via bus and “trempim.”

Our biggest news is that today our lift arrived! I was worried that it would get here late and at about 6:55am I got a phone call from the driver saying they were almost at the entrance of the yishuv. Turns out they went to Zufit and not Zufim, a common occurrence but by 7:45 they were in the right place. It took them about 45 minutes to get the seal open and then another 45 minutes to unload! Arthur and I were quite productive today – we put together Maor’s bed (very nice but too big for the room and her mattress is too high), our bed, nesting tables, and the dining room table. We also unpacked the couches, the dining room chairs and a lot of the kitchenware.

So the house is beginning to look familiar, including all the clutter which at least for the moment we have an excuse for. I’m looking forward to sleeping on a real bed instead of a thin mattress on the floor. While watching Arthur unpack pots and pans Maor excitedly named her favorite dish that was cooked in it and expressed her desire to be served them soon.

We will be out for most of our meals on Rosh Hashana but are having the first night at home, just us. I’m looking forward to settling in and hoping that the new year, 5770, brings good things for our family and for all of Am Yisrael. Wishing all my friends and family both here and abroad a very happy and healthy new year. Shana tova!

And for my friends abroad, a special thought just for you:

Sorry you have to use personal days for your religion's most sacred holidays

Thursday, August 20, 2009

There's no place like home...

We've been back for about a week and it's great to be home. Our house is in good condition and we're grateful that we had two sets of tenants who took care of our home while we were gone and were a pleasure to deal with. We returned to neighbors, friends, and family who are happy to have us back and though we miss our California friends (you know who you are) it's good to be back where we belong.

We've been taking care of bureaucracy while we wait for our lift to arrive and search for jobs. Arthur is a bit (can you say understatement) stressed about not having a job and has forgotten that in Israel nothing happens overnight. The country is practically shut down during the last two weeks in August and then not much happens till "acharei hachagim." Since the chagim are late this year, hopefully things will start to pick up in September. It's frustrating to send out resumes and not get results but hopefully we will find employment sooner than later.

We spent our first Shabbat with family in Ramat Beit Shemesh and we'll be home for this coming Shabbat. Today we bought and took possession of a car, a white Hyundai Getz. Hopefully it will serve us well.

I know that I always go on about how great it is to live in Israel but I'm not always able to explain why. It's by no means perfect or close to perfect but it's ours and it's home. Some of my experiences this past week have reinforced why I love living in Israel.

While waiting for the car service to get to the airport in NY, I discovered that my Israeli passport was expired. When you're an Israeli citizen you're supposed to leave and enter Israel with an Israeli passport. I was a bit nervous about what would happen when I got to Ben Gurion airport, but my worry was unnecessary. I sent Maor through on the line for Israeli passport holders and waited in the line for foreign passport holders. I handed over my American passport and started to answer the questions the passport control agent asked. When he asked if I had ever lived in Israel I said yes and he asked if I had an Israeli passport. I switched to Hebrew and said "I have a bit of a story." (What Israeli doesn't?) He said: "you talk Hebrew, that's already good." I told him that my passport expired and I hadn't noticed and I was worried they wouldn't let me in to the country and he said "Ma pitom! From our perspective you're coming home; how could we not let you come home?"

For those of you who have been listening to me complain about having to shop in 6 different stores to find everything I want/need and how I hate deciphering the various hechshers, I don't have to tell you how great it is to walk into one supermarket where everything is kosher and the variety and abundance of what is available is amazing. I wanted to take a picture of the dairy aisle but didn't have my camera. The prices are not cheap but you can find almost anything you want.

The first day we went car shopping one of the places we went to (and where we ultimately bought the car) was the Ra'anana branch of a company that rents and leases cars. The salesman asked us where we live and when we told him, somebody else who was in the office (not sure if he worked there as well) said my neighbor moved there. Really? Who's your neighbor. And sure enough it's somebody who we used to live next door to before moving into the house we live in now. It really is a small country and we truly are one big family.

When Arthur and I were walking around Kfar Saba, every time I saw somebody wearing a kipa I would do a double take to see if I knew them. I had to remind myself that I wasn't in San Jose anymore and here many people wear kippot and I probably don't know any of them!

If I haven't inspired you yet to at least think about packing your bags and moving to Israel, maybe this news article will. 366 North American Jews have just made aliyah with Nefesh B'Nefesh.

Hoping to host all of you in our home in Zufim, Israel in the very near future (but not all at the same time)! L'hitraot!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Tisha B'av at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Today we went to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. This was quite fitting as today is not only Tisha B'av, when we mourn for the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash, but also the 18th yahrzeit (anniversary of death) of my father, Mayer, a holocaust survivor.
I don't usually "do" holocaust if I can avoid it. I know nobody enjoys it but ever since I've been old enough to equate those atrocities happening to people I love, I try not to see Holocaust themed movies, read books about the Holocaust, etc. But I really wanted to see the Holocaust Museum in Washington and it was so fitting to do so today.
I was really surprised at how crowded the museum was and what a wide variety of people seemed to be visiting. From young children to older adults and many different nationalities. There was a group of young adults wearing GYLC tags, which I googled once I got back to the hotel in order to learn that the "Global Young Leaders Conference (GYLC) is a unique leadership development program that brings together outstanding young people from around the world to build critical leadership skills in a global context." I find it amazing that all these people chose to spend a day (or some hours) learning about the Holocaust.
The museum is organized chronologically, from the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party through the creation of the state of Israel. It doesn't mince words when relating America's refusal to help the Jews during the Holocaust and also relays the military course of the war. There are audio recollections of Auschwitz survivors discussing life in the camp, stories of the uprisings and partisans, and the rightgeous who helped save Jews. Also remembered are the political dissidents, gypsies (or Roma as they apparently prefer to be called), and other groups targeted by the Nazis.
At the end of the permanent exhibition there is a registry of survivors. I found an aunt and uncle but not my father. Maor and I filled out the form for my father and two of my aunts and when we handed it in the staff member glanced at it and said, "Buchenwald. We have extensive records for people from Buchenwald." [My father was liberated from Buchenwald] When he was done helping someone else he searched for my father and found my father's records from Buchenwald which includes information about when he arrived, from where (Auschwitz), prisoner ID number, and more. He explained some of it since it's written in German. One of the pages is stamped "liberated by US army." There is also his DP registration record. Interestingly, his Buchenwald record and his DP record each have different birthdays, neither of which were the ones we celebrated. The museum staff member explained that it was common in the camps for people to make themselves older so they would be deemed old enough to work and to make themselves younger on the DP records because kids got better placements. So on the Buchenwald records his birthday is Nov 6, 1927 and on the DP records Oct 6, 1929. I always thought his birthday was Oct 6, 1928. Anyway, as you can imagine, it's pretty incredible to have copies of these documents and I can't wait to get to NY and Israel to show them to my cousin and aunt, respectively.
We left the museum and walked to the White House since this would be our only opportunity to get a glance and Maor really wanted to see it. We were standing not directly by the fence but across the street which meant we didn't have to move when the police cleared all the people away from the fence. Why? Because the Obamas came out to walk Bo, on the lawn. Maor says it was the whole family together but I could only clearly see the girls (both wearing red). Of course Arthur did not have his camera (and zoom lens) so we missed our chance to get a great picture to sell to People magazine for big bucks. Another opportunity lost.
In any case, it was definitely a full day and we are now waiting for the fast to end back in our hotel room. Tomorrow we take the train to NY.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Packing day (part 1)

Once again, we have packed up our house (ok, apartment) to move across the ocean (our stuff will go across the Pacific, we'll go cross-Atlantic) to Israel. I CANNOT believe I am doing this again. I'd like to say I'm never moving again but I know I said that emphatically when we moved into our house on Zufim and obviously, I didn't stick to it.
The movers came to pack up our stuff and though Arthur thinks we don't have a lot of things it looks like a lot to me. It's amazing how fast the junk accumulates. Tomorrow they will finish packing and load it onto the container. And then we'll be "stuffless" for a while.
We'll be staying with friends in San Jose till Sunday and then begin our journey East.
I am internetless (currently using the wifi at the library - have I mentioned lately how much I'm going to miss the libraries? I have?! I'm sure I'll mention it again.) so not sure how much posting and Facebook updating I'll be doing.
Will try to keep writing from California, Florida, Washington, NY, Israel, and wherever else I wind up.
Take care and l'hitraot!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The final countdown...

The final countdown has begun! Not to the new Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, which opens Wednesday July 15th, though I am looking foward to that. In 7 days (for the exact count see the sidebar) we will be leaving San Jose after 3 years.
The shippers come on Tuesday to pack up our stuff (I cannot believe that I am moving again, and from the US to Israel for the second time). We'll stay with friends for a few days including our last Shabbat in San Jose.
Contrary to my previous post, Arthur will be coming home with us after all. After some more soul searching we've decided that this is the best route to take and even though we are both going home without jobs, we have confidence that with Hashem's help and the help of our friends (hint, hint - if you know of any job opportunities, pass them along) things will work out for the best.
We've finally solidified our vacation plans and though we won't be doing the cross country trip we had hoped to do (Maor REFUSES to be in the car with us for that long) we will be visiting a few places and people before our return. Next Sunday, we fly to Orlando for a Walt Disney World visit. We were there 14 years ago when Liam was 6 and Maor was a baby and Maor has yet to forgive us for taking her when she could not experience the Disney magic. And for those of you who know Maor, she never lets you forget a thing! Two trips to Disneyland in the past 3 years have not eroded her belief that she's been wronged!
After Disney (which will be a boot camp experience so we can see as much as possible), we will head to Washington D.C. We'll spend Shabbat at my cousin in Maryland and then try to cram in as much of Washington as we can. Maor knows that Washington museums are the price she must pay for Disney fun (theoretically, anyway).
After Washington we head to NY to visit friends and family and do some touristy things. We head back to Israel on August 10th.
I have to say that in all honesty I am not incredibly sad to be leaving San Jose or America. After living in Israel for 18 years, and Brooklyn before that, I've definitely been spoiled and have found being orthodox in San Jose to be challenging at times. I will miss the San Jose community and the good friends I've made here. I didn't think when we came that I would get close to people but they have a way of worming themselves into your affection (you know who you are!).
Despite northern California's wackiness, there are definitely things the rest of the world can learn from the tree-hugging PC crowd. You can be nice and friendly to people (though, please, less hugging folks!). It's okay to let people into your lane on the highway. It's very rare to hear honking in Northern California (I'm actually very nervous, ok terrified, about driving in Israel again). Recycling is not a dirty word and once you get used to it, it's not such a big deal.
I'll try to keep you updated on our vacation but for now, signing off.
To our Israeli friends and family, see you soon. To our American family and friends, l'hitraot!