Food, Fun, and Family

My parents were working class people. Although we didn’t have a lot of luxuries we did ok, but we needed to save up for awhile to go on a family vacation. I remember my mother buying a ceramic “piggy bank” shaped like a dog, and every time she came home from grocery shopping or other errands she would put the change into the bank. Little by litte the amounts would add up.

Planning the vacation was half of the fun. In the days before home computers and internet, you would send away for brochures, and spend lots of time picking and choosing what you wanted to do. One year we went to Washington, DC and did all of the patriotic, educational stuff – like visiting the White House, seeing the Washington and Lincoln Memorials, and having a tour of the FBI building. My parents picked a hotel with a swimming pool, so that we could burn off some energy too.

Now I am the one who plans the vacations (with some input, of course, from the men in the family). The summer is the time to head north, and we decided to focus on the Golan (in the past we spend most of our vacation just swimming in the Kinneret). I also tried to choose attractions that were Shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observant). (FYI – I used the internet site in Hebrew. Under attractions – merkazi mevakrim – they have a chart where you can see if the place is open on Shabbat).

The drive up is not very long by American standards, especially if you use 6 (Israel’s north/south toll road). This didn’t prevent a bit of boredom in the backseat, though, and I found myself shouting the traditional parental threat…IF I HAVE TO STOP THIS CAR…. The biggest difference between the car trips that I remember as a kid is that my kids can’t have feet fights in the back, since both are safely buckled up (although they managed to smack each other pretty well anyway!) The road signs were a little different than what I remember too. In the Golan, instead of “Caution, Deer Crossing” there were “Caution, Tank Crossing” signs. As a matter of fact we did see a bunch of tanks in action on the side of the road.

We went rafting on the river (Chatzbani). My kids took the oars and had a blast. It took a little while for them to learn that if you want to go right in the boat, you have to paddle on the left side, so we went around in circles for a bit, but they got the hang of it pretty quickly. We stopped at the side once, with westbankpappa holding on to a tree branch, and we let the kids swim in the water. (Unfortunately, due to the lack of rainfall in the past few years the river is very shallow. In addition, they both had lifejackets on and are good swimmers, so I didn’t worry about them). Westbankpappa wanted to do his bit for a cleaner Israel, so we crisscrossed the river picking up plastic bottles and other debris. At one point we headed zealously to the shore to pick up a plastic bag, until a man apparently camping nearby came rushing up to us and said “no, we put our milk in here to keep it cool”.

My kids have been asking to go horseback riding for a long time – so this vacation they got their wish. I stayed back in the air-conditioning while westbankpappa played cowboy too. He likes to wear cowboy hats when out in the sun – but this time he had to wear a helmet! Noone complained about being sore, so next year I think I will join them.

The highlight of the trip for me was visiting the Dekarina chocolate factory. In a tiny village in the Golan there is a factory where they make handmade chocolates. There are guided tours, a coffee shop, and of course a place to buy their delicious products. Unfortunately I didn’t make a reservation for a tour beforehand and they were completely booked, so we consoled ourselves with just buying a lot of the sweet stuff. I guess we’ll just have to FORCE OURSELVES to go back another time to get the tour….

And, of course, we couldn’t go north without swimming in the Kinneret, and I have the sunburn to prove it (where I missed with the sunscreen). All in all we had a wonderful time, and I’m already planning next year’s trip….


Gone Fishing….

Well, not really. But we are going up north for a much needed vacation. See you soon!

Face to Face is Best

Last night I went to the blogger’s conference hosted by Nefesh B’Nefesh, and it was great to meet so many bloggers face to face.

I have to admit, EVERYONE looked completely different than I pictured. Jameel must have Botox laced into those smiley faces he wears, because although he claims to be 40 he looks like an 18 year old! (That’s a compliment).

I always pictured Rafi G. to be a huge hulking guy, probably because he schechts (ritually slaughters) animals once in a while. A butcher has to be huge, right? Wrong in this case.

Aliyah06 has the nicest accent – slightly southern.  (I definitely want to meet up again in a quieter environment….)

Tafka PP is a brunette – I always pictured her a blond for some reason. (Thanks so much for the cookies – in the end I had to leave before dessert was served so these were especially appreciated!)

The only people who were not “surprises” were the ones with an occasional picture on their blogs (Batya and Yisrael Medad, and Treppenwitz, to name a few).

I also discovered that a few aquaintances were bloggers too! (They were just as surprised to meet me there as I was to see them).

My only regret from the evening was that there wasn’t more time for informal talking. The panels were ok, (with an unexpected but long addition from Bibi Netanyahu), and the speech by Zavi Apfelbaum was excellent. We really need to hear from her again. Those of you planning next year’s convention please bring her back.

Strong Families, Strong Country

I was having a discussion a little while ago with westbankpapa about various things, and the state of the family in America came up (we were discussing the next presidential election). He quoted a statistic to me that left me open-mouthed. He said that almost 40% of the children born in America (in 2005) were born out of wedlock. The divorce rate is at 45.8%, so the total number of children in single parent families is also on the rise.

I was appalled. I know that the social fabric of America is different than what it was when I was a child, but I still thought it was better than that.

I decided to look up the statistics for Israel, and I found some reassuring numbers. It turns out that Israel has one of the lowest divorce rates in the Western world (14.8 percent of marriages end in divorce here, versus 45.8 percent in America).  7% of children in Israel (as of 2007) grow up in single-parent families. (The social scientists all say that this number is growing, which is worrying, but from the perspective of other countries, we are doing ok).

One of the nicest things about coming on aliyah is how child friendly the country is. I remember going in to sign up for kupat cholim (health care) and bringing our oldest, who was a very active and inquisitive two year old at the time. I was a nervous wreck as he explored the office while we were signing forms, but the lady in charge thought he was just adorable, and gave him a pencil and a piece of paper to play with. When he tried to open some of the drawers in her filing cabinet, she was honestly more concerned about him hurting himself than anything else. I remember apologizing for bringing him with us on this errand, but she just waved it off and expressed how cute she thought he was.

This child friendly attitude is not found just in the religious sector. It is true that religious families have more children, on average, than the secular families. But the overall fertility rate here in Israel is 2.9 (for the Jewish population), which means that most families have children. Westbankpapa sees that in his job in hi-tech. When the company went for new models of company cars, and gave the workers a choice, many went to measure the trunk (“baggage” in Hebrew slang) to see if it was big enough for a stroller. The “cool” factor of the car was a lower priority.

It makes me feel good to live in a place where the family is still a high priority. We have many problems here in Israel, but the social fabric is still very strong.

Havel-Havalim Hosted By…

Havel-Havalim is hosted by the Rebbetzin’s Husband. Go over and enjoy!

Kosher Cooking All Dressed Up…

The newest version of the Kosher Cooking Carnival is here, and it is all dressed up….

Olympic Athletes Come In All Shapes and Sizes

Jameel links here to an article about an Orthodox Jewish woman who lives in a yishuv who is competing for Israel in the Olympics in China. When I read this I had a jolt of pure pride.  It also brought back to me some of my feelings when I first came to Israel, and why I decided after a while that I needed to come live here.

As I have written before, I decided to become an Orthodox Jew at the age of 17. While I have never regretted my decision, it came with a bit of trepidation. Accepting upon yourself the halacha (Jewish law) means adding meaning to your life, but it entails, by its very nature, rejecting certain things in the secular world. There was, at the beginning at least, fear that I would need to reject too much.

When I came to Israel for the first time, I was introduced to a lot of things, both “spiritual” and “mundane”. Some of the “mundane” things included seeing Orthodox Jews who worked in professions that were new to me. In America you don’t see Jews who wear kippot (skullcaps) or women who cover their hair working as bus drivers, policemen, politicians, or soldiers. There aren’t too many religious farmers or gym teachers either.

In Israel I met religious women who were actresses and performers – and who didn’t have to compromise their religious beliefs. They were able to perform with other women, in front of women only, in order to circumvent the restrictions of kol isha (Orthodox women cannot perform solos in front of men because it is considered immodest).

Being in Israel does not change the Jewish law. There has always been a certain flexibility, in this case and in many others, if specific conditions are met. But the fact that this is the Jewish state in and of itself helps to create these conditions. In a place where there are so many Jews, there is more chance that you will find enough religious women to make up a band or an acting troupe, and have a large enough audience to make it worthwhile. And, in a place where there are so many Jews, you can find a place where a young Orthodox woman can take up a sport that can lead her to the Olympics.

There are many different reasons why coming to Israel means “living the dream”. Not all of them are necessarily spiritual in nature. Sometimes the dream can mean finding a place to take up kickboxing.

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