Gearing up for the Big Move


Sorry for the blogging hiatus — things have been fairly quiet here so I haven’t had anything exciting to update you all about, but next week we are finally moving into our wonderfully humongous, beautiful, large apartment! I am so excited to have a kitchen with a real stove and oven, a washing machine inside the house instead of outside of it, and best of all, to finally unpack all of our suitcases!

Because we’re in such a small apartment now and we haven’t really unpacked any of our stuff from when we first moved here, we’re not in such a hurry to pack, but it will all get done next week.

In other news, Jonathan got a job working for a catering company for Pesach, which he’s starting on Sunday. That means I’m going to be pretty much on my own for the move, but we have lots of friends and students that are going to help us out along the way. We need to get some furnishings, which we’re working on (I think we found a sofa but I haven’t heard back yet), and I’m hoping we’ll be able to make an extra-large and in charge dining room table to host 20+ people. That would be a dream come true!

Anyway, that’s pretty much all that’s new over here. I’ll keep you updated as we move and send pictures of the new apartment as we make it feel like home :-).

Siege by Snow


We thought we were leaving this kind of weather behind when we left America for the Middle East, but we couldn’t have been more wrong. Then again, the last time a blizzard this size fell down on Jerusalem, it was the roaring ’20’s. Either way, this is my account of what it was like to be under siege by snow.

A little background: The entire upper administration of the school where I work was away in America for recruitment and interviewing applicants for next year, meaning I inherited the entire school (and all of the responsibility that goes along with it) for two weeks. To ease the amount of work and time I needed to put in, we told all of the girls that they had to find housing and meals for themselves outside of our neighborhood for Shabbos, to give both me and the madrichot Shabbos off. That all changed when we saw the weather report.

You have to understand, when the weather report predicts snow in Israel, the average person doesn’t believe it for a second, until they get to the supermarket and it looks like the apocalypse is about to hit. Picture it – nothing on the shelves, a line out the door, not a single empty shopping cart to be found…

“SNOW?” they’ll say incredulously; “Last year it snowed and by the time it hit the ground it started melting!”

So when the forecast was calling for snow from Thursday to Sunday, I knew we had to come up with a backup plan. The only automobiles that have snow tires in Israel are ambulances and firetrucks; buses and especially the average car certainly don’t qualify, which meant getting out of the neighborhood was most likely going to be out of the question, even if the forecast was wrong. Thank goodness I had the foresight (siyatta d’shamaya) to send the handyman to the supermarket on Tuesday for enough food for 50 people for three meals — which we ended up having to prepare ourselves. I even thought ahead to ask the cook to prepare enough kugels on Wednesday, with the plan to freeze them if we didn’t end up needing them.

Waking up on Thursday morning was like a dream. I woke up at around 6:30 and let Lucy outside, already appreciating the gorgeous undisturbed ground the snow was falling on. At 10 till 7, the first period teacher called me to say that he would be able to come in to teach if we were still having school. After getting a hold of the other first period teacher who also said she’d be able to come in, I decided we would open school so that the girls could eat breakfast and maybe have some class. The girls meandered in, excited about the snow, while I made hot chocolate. After first period, the rest of the classes were cancelled, and the girls busied themselves with snowball fights and snowman making contests.

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#whiteout

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and it was just the beginning…

We ran home to get Lucy and Simba, who really enjoyed playing in the snow! At first, Lucy was a little afraid, but warmed up to it a lot once she realized how much fun it was to dig and play.

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YAY! Snow!

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Lucy found a flower in the snow.

At this point, we knew that if the snow kept up (and even if it didn’t) it would be very unlikely that the girls would be able to go anywhere for Shabbos, so we told them to call their hosts and cancel their plans. We went home to rest for a few hours and then went back to school to start cooking.

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passed out after playing in the snow.

As the snow continued to fall, another staff member volunteered to make challah with the girls while Jonathan and I got started cooking. Thinking (in our naive American mentality) that people like the cleaner and the fix-it man would be able to get into school to straighten up, we didn’t think much about logistics as we went along with our business, making tray after tray of chicken, pots of rice, and green beans. We were making three meals for 50 girls at each meal, so we had our work cut out for us. We decided to make two giant pots of chicken soup (one for night and one for day), cholent, and lots of yummy sides. Satisfied with all we’d accomplished, we decided to call it a night and went home to rest for a day of work to follow. Meanwhile, the snow kept on falling.

Friday morning, I woke up to a phone call and a text message that the store wasn’t receiving any challah deliveries, and the challahs that the girls made the night before were sent home with them to the dorms for them to eat. This resulted in a lot of tears from me, frustration that we had no challah, flour, or eggs to make our own. I sent a text to all of our students and told them we needed them to save Shabbos, and a madricha pounded on the doors to get everyone out on a trip to the makolet, where they would pick up pitas, loaves of bread, and grape juice by the case to carry back (in a blizzard) so that we would have enough bread and grape juice. In a minute, went from crying tears of frustration and feeling like I would never be able to pull it together to crying tears of joy from how impressed I was from all of these girls. Within 20 minutes, the school was sparkly clean, the tables were set, and the food was put up on the hot plates. We went home in the falling snow to get ready for Shabbos, and the girls did the same.

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the calm before the blackout.

We got home just in time for our power to go out, along with all of the power along our street. We live on the same street as Baer Miriam, but miraculously, the school still had power that held over Shabbos, but we had no hot water, no heat, and no lights. We piled on the blankets and invited the dogs into bed with us, and somehow stayed warm at home, but definitely took refuge at school, where the heat was pumping and it was very comfortably warm.

Shabbos afternoon, the power came back and stayed back, unlike for many other people in Jerusalem. After Shabbos, we found venturing outside was dangerous and made us feel like we were in a third-world country – cars were abandoned in the middle of the road, the streets went unplowed, trees fell in the middle of the roads, and nothing was done about it for days. Our neighborhood is on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and doesn’t lead to any major highways or hospitals, making it the last on the list to get plowed (by the three snow plows owned by the country). That, and very few people own snow shovels, making clearing your car out (not that we have a car, but wishful thinking) or clearing the sidewalks next to impossible. The city brought in army tanks and policemen to clear the roads, plow the streets, and direct traffic.

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Even now, the majority of the trees on our street are still on the sidewalks, making walking very cumbersome, even a month after the storm.

Israelis are notoriously bad drivers, and that makes driving in the snow here a dangerous activity as well. Jonathan and I needed to go out a few days after the storm (cabin fever had started to set in), so we walked to the commercial neighborhood next to ours, where we set up a cell-phone plan for Yael, Jonathan’s sister. We hitched a ride on the way back with someone from our neighborhood, and spun out into the snowbank as we slid over black ice. Car rides that would have taken 5 minutes took close to 2 hours or more as more people began to venture outside, and the owner of the supermarket in our neighborhood took it upon himself to sleep in his store rather than have to commute from his home. The roads got so bad (and Israelis drive so recklessly) that the city had to close the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway after 8PM for a few evenings to prevent people from driving on the ice.

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The snowfall started on the 9th of Tevet and fell through the 10th of Tevet, which is a minor fast day for the Jewish nation. The 10th of Tevet was when the walls of Jerusalem were breached, and the siege of the city was complete. No longer could anything be imported or exported from within its walls. We fast on the 10th of Tevet to remember that it was the beginning of our exile. This year, on the 10th of Tevet, we were also under siege. Nothing could come into Jerusalem, and nothing could leave. Nothing could even come to the makolets, and we didn’t even have heat or light in our homes, except for our Shabbos candles. It would take days for things to return to normal — cell phone towers were running interference for days, buses were suspended for almost a week, school was cancelled for 5 days, and we were confined to our little homes and neighborhoods within walking distance. For just a minute, we got an understanding of what it felt like to be under siege.

Where in snowfalls past, the snow would melt within a day or two of the storm, this snow held on for weeks, even as the sun beat down on it. Life slowly but surely started to get back to normal, the roads thawed during the day and re-iced over at night, and after a while, the normal routines resumed. But people (including the New York Times) continue to speak about the snowstorm of a century.

We’ll definitely remember it forever.

*(I just have to take this moment to give a shout-out to my amazing Husband and other half, Jonathan, who helped me hold it together during this very stressful and high-pressure time. I never would have been able to pull off the snow Shabbos, or the week of running a seminary, without his help, expertise, and everlasting love and support.)

 

Hello, 2014! You’re Looking Mighty Fine.

Hello, 2014! You’re Looking Mighty Fine.


Friends, Family, and Loved ones,

I am sorry for being so out of the loop — we’ve been going through a time of transition, and can’t wait to tell you all about it! Since I don’t know exactly where to start, I think I’ll start from the beginning…

All of you know that Jonathan and I spent the year in Israel last year, and at some point throughout that adventure, we decided we wanted to spend more time here. Like, move here. So we did. After months of bureaucracy, waiting for the Israeli Consulate to end their four-month long strike, and a photo finish to the plane (literally a photo finish: my visa came in on the Thursday before the flight left…on Monday), we made it to Israel.

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Fresh off the plane and only a little worse for wear. Our row had two toddlers in it for half the flight and then the row behind us inherited them..I’m not sure which was worse.

Somehow, we’ve been here for three months. I’m going to do my best to fill you in on what they’ve had in store for us. (Hint: it includes a puppy!)

For the past three months, we’ve been renting a small apartment in Har Nof, the same neighborhood we lived in last year – actually, right across the street from our old apartment. It’s quaint with “American” fixtures, meaning nicer ceramic tiles and crown molding, which aren’t considered standard by any means for rentals here in Israel. It’s not where we’re going to be long term, but it’s cute, comfortable, and we’ve made a semblance of a home here for the short while we’re here. We (finally!) found a long term apartment, across the next street, complete with a large porch and extra bedrooms we’re planning to move into in the middle of February. Until then, we’re using this apartment half as storage and half as living space — and missing a proper kitchen.

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This is it – in all it’s glory. If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with?

We’d only been here about a month when someone mentioned to me that they saw a puppy on facebook that was found abandoned on the street. Since they weren’t allowed animals in their apartment, I went home and discussed (re: begged) with Jonathan about getting a dog, something we’d been wanting to do for a long time, but never felt settled down enough. He told me, “Go get him (at the time we thought she was a him) before I change my mind,” so off I went to Hebrew University, where I met the dog who would later be called Lucy, once we unwrapped the towel she was swaddled in and saw she was in fact…a she.

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She was as shocked as we were!

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Loving on some yogurt as big as her head…

Lucy was tiny, only 4 weeks old, malnourished, and covered in fleas. I ran to the store and bought some goat’s milk and a baby bottle, which I fed her by hand, and tried to feed her some scrambled eggs, which she didn’t have much interest in. She slept the entire night (I woke up a thousand times to check on her), and in the morning discovered yogurt, her all-time favorite food. After trips to the vet, vaccinations, and two months of TLC, she’s a little demon, alternating between snuggling and chewing on my shirt-sleeve to get my attention as I’m typing this right now. Oh wait, now she’s asleep.

case in point.

case in point.

We love having Lucy, but we definitely underestimated the amount of responsibility involved in adopting a 4 week old puppy. Let me spell it out for you: basically, puppies can hold their bladders for 1 hour for every month they are alive, plus one hour. That meant that little Lucy could go a whopping 2 hours between being taken outside to go to the bathroom, or she would pee wherever she was. So for about one month, we’d set alarms for every 2 hours to take her out in the middle of the night, and make sure we never left her alone for longer than that. Then, the 2 hour rule got expanded to 3 hours when Lucy got another month older, except for one week that she was sick and had no control over her muscles at all. Thank goodness we tricked her into thinking her antibiotics were treats. Now, Lucy is an energetic, healthy, three and a half month puppy who keeps our hands and hearts full, and guards our home with her surprisingly loud bark.

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guarding our home from invited and uninvited guests.

Other than Lucy and our house-guest as pictured above (Simba, courtesy of our friends S&B), we had another amazing surprise so far in Israel – SNOW! I’m going to save the details for another post about what it’s like to experience a blizzard in a country with no snow plows, but I couldn’t resist adding a sneak preview of what’s to come…

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and that was the first day…

So, now that I’ve told you about our living arrangement and our new addition, what else occupies our time? Work. Which we do a lot of.

I LOVE my job. I work at a seminary called Baer Miriam, where I serve as the eim bayit, or house mother. This role entails everything from kissing boo-boos to studying with the girls, leading seminars, and even teaching a class for college credit, which I will be doing next semester. The best part of it all: inheriting 40 or so 18 & 19-year old pseudo-daughters for the school year. The girls keep my life fun and busy, with plenty of drama to boot. As someone who was a bit of a drama queen in high school, I think it’s a perfect fit.

I also work for another company called Pearl & Clasp, a luxury jewelry company that specializes in custom pieces, necklace clasps, and pearl restringing, where I am the Social Media Manager; meaning, I do freelance writing for fashion blogs and business websites that make mention of the business, and manage the facebook, google+, and twitter accounts for the company. This job helps me itch my writing bug, which also makes me feel guilty for not writing here, something I hope to change.

As for Jonathan, he’s putting his degree to good use by cooking for a girls’ school in our neighborhood and is trying to start his own personal catering company, Jerusalem Catering. He’s also studying a half day and helps me with pretty much everything (my girls call him Mr. Carly), so we’re definitely keeping busy. We’re also writing a cookbook with 52 cholent (overnight Shabbos Day) recipes. I’ll keep you posted as we’re looking for people to test out recipes in kitchens other than our own.

I think that pretty much sums up the past three months in 1000 words. I’m going to try to update more regularly (I’m starting to sound like a broken record) to keep everyone included in our life overseas.

Happy New Year, everyone! Especially Mom, Dad, Mom Mom, and Becca, who I miss very, very much and hope to see soon, even though you’re turning my bedroom into a gym. And Chelsea – can’t forget her.

 

Mangoes in Israel


Since we’re on a limited budget here in Israel, our food choices are sometimes affected. This, however, does not stop us from stocking up on something that in America, costs way more than it does in Israel. No, I’m not talking about rice, or fish, or meat. I’m talking about G-d’s candy. I’m talking about fruit.

The fruit in Israel, specifically mangoes, which are my all-time FAVORITE fruits, are AMAZING here. The first time I bit into one was like the first time I ate a mango — it redefined what the fruits are supposed to taste like. Since I’m allergic to almost all other fruits (I can only partake in them cooked), and I want to eat them here, I’ve been making a lot of fruit-filled desserts. During the holiday, I made a delicious Apple Crisp using my mom’s recipe not once, not twice, but three times. Each time the baking dish was licked clean by all of our friends guests Jonathan me.

Sorry for the caveat — I definitely have fruit on the mind today, and I know I promised an update on my etrog jelly, but we’re having a little bit of trouble getting it to set up. It tastes delicious, but I think I over-soaked the pectin from the but I am having some trouble with my etrog jelly. Unfortunately, it isn’t setting up like it’s supposed to — I guess I over-soaked the pectin out of it! So I’m off to the health-food store to try to find some powdered pectin!

I’m meeting Jonathan there, so we’re probably going to get some falafel for dinner while we’re out — I’ll try to update again later!

While I’m here, I want to give you the chance to ask me some questions so that I can answer them on my blog. Anything you want to know about what it’s like to live in Israel? What it’s like to be an Orthodox Jew? Feel free to post a comment if there’s something you’d like to know.

Chodesh Tov! (Rosh Chodesh, the new moon, is today and tomorrow — it’s a minor festival in Judaism, and it means no housekeeping, no sewing, and definitely no laundry — all things I’m happy to not have a reason to do :-))

Our New Pet!


Yes, we have a new pet — kind of. As I’m sure many of you know from reading this post, we had a MAJOR ant problem in our first apartment. Why, you may ask, do we not have one here? Because of our newest addition to the family; THIS GUY:

The awesome, ever-elusive, ant eater — FRANK!

Alright, he’s not really our pet — more like a trespasser that likes to sleep in our shoes, under the bed, and once, IN the bed — but he gets the prize for the most creative exterminator I’ve ever seen. I worry about Frank, sometimes, about when he is going to get the amount of sun he needs to keep warm, like the cold-blooded fella he is. I’m scared he’s going to get out and get eaten by one of the many feral cats that live on the Jerusalem streets. My fears were almost actualized when I almost stepped on him while sweeping the bedroom the other day — that would have been traumatizing, to say the least.

But Frank is cool, and he doesn’t poop in the house (that we can see), nor does he make noise, shed, or activate any of our allergies. He also changes colors, like a chameleon, and we find him in the strangest places (here – on our window), outside on the Jerusalem stone walls, or like I said, in our shoes.

Maybe one day we’ll get him a heat lamp and build him a terrarium, but I like the idea of him running free, as he usually is when he’s running away from the broom, or the mop, or the never-ending dust bunnies that seem to form EVERY DAY in our tiny apartment, where he builds his nest night after night. Frank’s a cool dude. And he can stay here, if he’d like. He pays his rent by killing mosquitoes, aunts, and moths (although sometimes I worry that they could eat him!).

In other news, since Sukkot is over, I needed to find a use for the 15 spare etrogim that Jonathan got for free right before the holiday at a nearby shul. So, like many bubbes and balabustas before me, I’ve decided to try my hand at making etrog marmalade — YUM! Since we had so many, it seems like we are going to be enjoying many-a etrog flavored dessert for the next few months, probably until Shavuous (in June). I researched a lot of recipes, and this is the one I compiled after reading a dozen.

Meet Etrog. Looks a little like lemon’s lumpy cousin, the distant relative to buddha’s hand citron. Also called a citron in other languages.

All of the recipes I found said to soak the etrogim, some said whole, some said cut up — so I did the smart thing: Both!

Here are the cut-up etrogim soaking for the second day.

The recipes I found said the minimum time to soak the etrogim was 12 hours, and the longest was 7 days — so I went with soak for 1 day whole, 2 days cut up (changing the water once each day.) This step is important because it helps to get rid of the bitterness from the pith of the fruit, which in an etrog’s case, makes up most of it’s bulk.

Then, the etrogim were cut into smaller pieces, and put into a pot to simmer on the stove (this is happening now). This water is also going to be discarded, and then they’ll be set to simmer again. The second batch of water will ALSO be discarded. The third time’s the charm with this one.

Esrog’s simmering on the stove for the first time.

Once the esrogs have been simmered twice, and they’re sitting in NEW water, then it’s time to add the sugar. Since this is a classic marmalade, the standard equal parts fruit/sugar will qualify. This is usually equivalent to 1 cup of sugar for every etrog in the batch.

Once the sugar is added (with water, obviously), let the mixture simmer for about 1/2 hour. Make sure you watch your jam at this point, because it can burn and ruin the whole project. To check whether you have the right consistency, I found this great trick from Food.com — if you put a saucer in the freezer, and spread a little bit of the jam on the cold saucer, it should cool down to the temperature where you can check the consistency — you want it to be like jam, not like caramel or juice. If it’s like juice, add a little bit of orange marmalade to reintroduce the pectin you removed while soaking (this is why it’s nice to have a food scientist husband). If it’s like caramel, then congratulations — you’ve made candied etrogim! YUM!

Jar and sanitize according to your grandmother’s method.

Stay tuned for photos of the finished product tomorrow!

Since etrogim also have SO MANY seeds, we thought it would be fun to try to plant a tree in our backyard. The only time I’ve ever tried this before, I planted the apple seeds DIRECTLY into the ground instead of letting them germinate and sprout, so I’m going to work a little smarter this time. (Disclaimer: I was about 6 when I tried this with apples. Also, my mom was NOT HAPPY. She was afraid an apple tree would actually grow. Me? I just really liked apples, and was a tad jealous of our neighbor’s neighboring pear tree. Now, I’m allergic to both fruits.)

Our collection of Etrog seeds — soon to be ETROG TREES…or one, etrog tree. If my black thumb doesn’t betray me.

Since I’ve had a black thumb in the past with every plant I’ve ever tried to care for, I’m a little nervous about this one, but Jonathan’s green thumb should help back me up. (Side note: seriously, blackest thumb EVER. I’ve even managed to kill SCALLIONS — all they need is WATER.)

Many more fun and exciting stories are to come!

I’ve Been Slacking


In the blog department. I apologize greatly for that, but it’s really exhausting to live here.

Amazingly exhausting, that is. The lifestyle here definitely took some getting used to — there’s no such thing as Target or Wal-Mart, and in order to get the food for the week it usually requires a trip to the shuk (I have some pictures), the supermarket (I have some more pictures) and the Makolet (think corner store, but a little bit more variety), with one or two more errands thrown in between. No one has cars, but there’s always traffic somehow, the bus system is GREAT, but taking buses everywhere is crazy because the bus drivers are army reserve members that  drive like they are STILL in the army, and you have to take a trip to about 5 stores ALWAYS to get everything that you want.

For Sukkot, that meant A LOT of shopping, and a LOT of stores, but we are so excited that we got to have our first Sukkah here in Israel! We had 11 of Jonathan’s yeshiva friends over for a meal, so we certainly had a full house, erm, Sukkah!

Our first Sukkah! The roof is made from palm leaves that enable you to still experience the elements, and we decorated it with etrogim (esrogim, or citron fruits), grape vines, and plastic pomegranates that were realistic enough to fool the bees!

To prepare for sukkot, we went to many different stores, and I finally got to take some pictures of the shuk (open market)! We got there really early, by 8:15 in the morning, but it was already packed with people buying food for the holiday.

A store only for nuts!

And one that only sells olives and pickles!

Soon, I’m going to go back to the shuk and take pictures as we eat our way through it, and do a blog specifically on the foods of Israel, but that’s for another day :-)!

On our way back from the shuk, we were getting off of the light rail to transfer to a bus home when someone suddenly yelled out to Jonathan and ran up to him to introduce himself. Turns out, because they looked so much alike, he wanted to know if they could possibly be related. This man, Gilad, has some American family that he never got to meet and wanted to know if Jonathan could possibly be his long-lost cousin. After they shmoozed for almost an hour at the bus stop and on the bus, it turns out that they certainly are NOT related, but they do look alike.

Jonathan and his new “brother.”

We also went to the supermarket, which was even busier than it was last time I showed you a picture. See?

This was the supermarket on Thursday afternoon, before Shabbos and Sukkot. It was so crowded, you had to walk to the back of the supermarket to make it to the other side, and you couldn’t even choose which check out line you wanted to use — whichever aisle you were in dictated that decision for you.

During this pretty sizeable break from classes, we were also able to travel to the south to visit a lot of Jonathan’s Aunts, Uncles, and cousins. It’s certainly been a busy break, and one filled with lots of food! His aunt Mazal told us she was only going to prepare us a snack, and when we got to her house there was a feast — four courses including fish, steak, wings, soup, and dessert. My waistband was not happy with me by the end of this trip.

Jonathan and Mazal at our feast!

We also made pizza in this awesome pizza oven at Jonathan’s Aunt Aleeza and Uncle Moshe’s.

At the end of this trip, we were definitely ready for the respite that Shabbos brings — I don’t think I’ve ever napped so much on one Shabbos before! Now that break is over, and I’ve gotten A LOT of Hebrew practice and we got to travel quite a bit, we are ready to get back into gear at school. I’m going to be doing a new education program, where I learn a curriculum for teachers in Jewish Day schools, which I’m really excited about.

I’ve got more to update everyone on, so stay tuned!

Jonathan and Me all ready for Shabbos at his Aunt Aleeza and Uncle Moshe’s house.

K’Siva V’Chasima Tova!


Happy New Year!! I’m sorry I haven’t been updating as regularly as I (and I’m sure, all of you, my loyal readers) would have wanted — I kept forgetting to bring my camera with me and I didn’t think it was as fun to update without pictures — in hindsight, I wish I’d updated more regularly because now I don’t know really where to begin!

This past month, the Hebrew month of Elul, has been intense, to say the least. It’s a time of learning and self-evaluation, and that energy can be felt all over the country. In everything from going to the supermarket to riding on the bus, there is a feeling of anticipation present in Eretz Yisrael during this time of year. Just to give you an idea of how intense it can be, here’s a few pictures of the checkout line in the supermarket:

It took us about an hour and a half to checkout — by the time we got to the front of the line, we decided that our next venture to the supermarket, one of us would stand in line and the other one would shop!

Another thing we certainly do not lack here is exercise: I’m uploading a step-by-step (literally) visual of my commute to school:

The first flight of stairs — which I forgot to get a picture of, is about 30 steps or so.

Then, I approach this beauty:

And walk ALLLLLL the way to the top.

Then, the next flight of stairs is about 10 meters from this one:

And more:

Then, there’s an AMAZING view at the top of these stairs, which I stand and “admire” while I catch my breath.

You can see my house from here!

Then, when you think you’re finished walking up all the stairs in the world, there’s another flight:

These are the perks of living literally ON a mountain — where our town was built, and from where we live, there’s no way to go but up.

As the new year (5773) begins tonight, I have to say that I feel extraordinarily blessed and happy to be celebrating it here in Eretz Yisrael. The only thing missing is our Philadelphia family and friends, who we miss very much.

This year has been very trying for my family and me — from unexpected health troubles, to the loss of my beloved grandfather, to changes and circumstances that are not always understood, this has been a year where each of my family members (including myself) has had to learn ways to stretch ourselves to fit the ever-changing needs of our environment around us and to help each other get through particularly trying times. It sounds a bit cliché, but I’m hoping that next year’s challenges are going to be less…challenging. More clarifying. I don’t believe that learning to stretch yourself is a bad thing, on the contrary, I think it’s a beautiful way to grow; all the same, I do not wish any challenging circumstances upon anyone, including myself.

I’ve learned a lot over the past month, but one thing that I learned that I think stuck with me above all else is that if you want to make a change in your life, no matter how big or small, you have to meet yourself where you are at that moment. And if you’re looking to get from point A to point D, you’re better off stopping off at point B and C along the way — taking a leap doesn’t always work the way you necessarily want it to. There’s a concept in Judaism called “opening the eye of a needle” — when we want to make a change, and G-d wants us to make that change, He doesn’t ask us to do anything drastic to get there. Instead, He just requests that we “open for Him the Eye of the needle,” and He’ll show us the rest.

I can really see this concept clearly in my life these days — when I think about the fact that four months ago, Jonathan and I weren’t even planning on going to Eretz Yisrael. We went, from one day, having what we thought was our “plan” for the next few years, to making the decision to go, to finding ourselves on an airplane, and living in a beautiful apartment in a beautiful neighborhood all in the blink of an eye. That eye of a needle for us was making a concrete decision to come — and we were really shown the rest, given a path, given help (financially and emotionally) to make it work, allowing us to live the year we’ve been dreaming about since we got engaged to be married.

When you’re little, and your bones and muscles begin to stretch, we call them “growing pains.” What we don’t learn at a young age is that these growing pains do not cease when you get older and your bones and muscles reach their “grown-up” length — the pains just become more emotional, more spiritual, more internal rather than physical. Growing pains aren’t bad — they measure progress, they teach you your limits, and help you ultimately define who you are, what you do, what you want to be. To experience these pains in a beautiful and fulfilling way, all you need is the eye of a needle.

We want to wish everyone a K’Siva V’Chasima Tova from Jerusalem — that 5773 should be a year of health, healing, bracha, parnasa (prosperity), and of achdus (togetherness) for all of our loved ones here and elsewhere.

Shana Tova u’Metuka!