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.)

 

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Yom HaZikaron – A Day to Remember


Today was a very bittersweet day. Living in Israel is a paradox. It’s a country where there is a huge sense of faith in Hashem, in G-d, but also many people that run away from their Jewish identities. It’s a country where every young boy goes to the army as soon as he is old enough, and fights to protect our country from the enemies that surround it. Today was Yom Hazikaron, the Day of Remembrance.

In America, Memorial Day means a lot to a select few. In Israel, today means a lot to everyone. There is no one who doesn’t know someone who fell, or at the very least, someone who knows someone who fell. Today, I heard a very moving story that I am going to try to remember here.

A Rosh Yeshiva survivor of World War II had a teacher at his school who had a son serving in the army that fell during the first Lebanon War. After the Levaya, the Rosh Yeshiva turned to the bochurim (yeshiva students) in the van taking him back to school and said, “He was Kadosh.” He was holy. One of the other students in the van turned to him and questioned, “Rebbi, even the non-religious soldiers?” Without hesitation he responded, “They were ALL kadosh.” Then, without explaining himself he asked the driver of the cab to take him directly to the house where his colleague was sitting shiva, mourning for his son.

His colleague was shocked at the arrival of the Rosh Yeshiva, who was never known for spending any extra time out of his Torah learning, and said to him, “Thank you for coming, but it is time for you to return to Yeshiva.”

His superior turned to him and relayed the following story:
“You don’t know this about me, but I had a son who was taken out of my arms and executed. He was five years old, and I was not able to do anything to save him. Later, I traded my five-year old son’s shoes for food, but I could never eat it. I gave it away to someone else. When my son was taken, I knew he was a tzadik (righteous) but he went singularly; he didn’t save anyone else in the process. Your son was also taken from you, but he did so saving the lives of all of the Jewish people that live in the Land of Israel, making him a tzadik in his own right. I know that in shamayim (heaven) right now, my son is welcoming your Shlomo to a heavenly minyan, where your son is the Shaliach Tzibur (the leader of the group) in heavenly prayer. I never got to sit shiva properly for my own son, so please let me sit here with you for a little while longer.”

The Rebbe (teacher) replied, “Rebbi (my teacher), I didn’t think it was possible to be comforted, but you just comforted me.”

Two sirens sound on Yom Hazikaron, one in the evening and one in the morning. The sirens evoke emotions that are larger than life, bringing in images of soldiers knocking loudly on doors to deliver news that no one wants to receive; wails of mothers burying their sons, and an intense silence falls over the country: the silence of laughter that will never be heard again; the silence of a wedding that will never occur and children and grandchildren that will never be born.

The director of my school said that while the national response to these sirens is to stand in a moment of silence, she doesn’t think that it’s a very Jewish response. She said that a much more Jewish response would be to stand up and to pray to G-d on behalf of the fallen soldiers, to say tehillim for their souls to help them elevate higher and higher; that our prayer should enable them to daven in their own heavenly minyan.

People often criticize the religious population in Israel for being unwilling and ungrateful to the soldiers of the land of Israel, but this powerful story shows that the opposite is true – we ALL owe our lives to them. We owe our safety to them. Our ability to daven at the Kotel to them. But we also owe it to Hashem, our Father in Heaven, who made it possible for them to strengthen this country to be able to defend itself from it’s foes. Without this understanding; without soldiers in the army and soldiers learning Torah, the Jewish state loses all of it’s Judaism – it becomes a secular state with a mainly Jewish population, the antithesis of anything Jewish. that is the essence of Yom Hazikaron, which always falls during a time of mourning for the Jewish people. It’s not a coincidence that the date is during sefira, the counting of the Omer, when we are challenged with working on our character traits specifically concerning “ben adam l’chavero,” between a man and his friend. During this time it is essential that we recognize the kedusha, the holiness, of each and every one of the soldiers defending Am Yisrael (the Jewish people), and also that we realize that ultimately, everything is in Hashem’s hands.

A Little Peace and Thanksgiving


Baruch Hashem, it’s been quiet here for the past week. We all had a few mixed feelings when the cease fire was announced last week, because we partially wanted Israel to just go in and finish the job they started, but thankful that we wouldn’t hear the wail of the siren in the coming days.

We were unhappy for several reasons. First of all, Hamas learned some lessons during this war that are not beneficial to Israel. Primarily, they learned that they can fire over 1500 rockets into Israel in an 8 day period and not get so much as a potch (smack) on the wrist. They also learned that Egypt (see below: the real winner of the “war”) and the United States will push for a cease fire and try to get Israel to not ‘invade’ by foot. (I put the word invade in parenthesis because can a country ‘invade’ a part of their own borders? Would the U.S. be ‘invading’ Puerto Rico? Arizona? Just something to think about.)

Egypt really won this war because the world recognized their leader (an open member of the Muslim Brotherhood) as a vital contribution to the “peace” process between Israelis and Palestinians. No surprise that less than a week later, he declared himself a dictator by saying that none of the courts can contradict any decision that he makes as leader.

As for the amount of quiet we’ve had, there’s still some unrest along the Gaza/Sinai border, and not all of the soldiers that were called up from the army have gone home. Most recently, there was some distress on the Gaza/Israel border (see above comment for why I sigh/roll my eyes while I write this) and Israeli soldiers were needed to calm down the situation. We haven’t had a siren in Jerusalem, and I don’t think there have been sirens in the south since the day after the cease fire either.

Even throughout the whole ordeal, we weren’t fearful. I’d be lying if I said we weren’t afraid, but we weren’t full of fear. A friend of mine, who I’ll tell you about in a second, almost found herself outside during the second siren, because she had to go to the butcher. Once the siren was over, she ran out, and while she was waiting for the butcher to ring up her food, she let out a sigh, almost as if she’d been holding her breath the whole way there, afraid there would be another siren. The butcher (a Chassidic man), told her it’s okay to be scared. He said, “You can be scared because it’s scary. But to be paralyzed in fear is not good. To not do things because of the fear is bad.” In other words, being paralyzed because of fear makes you think that you are in control. To be aware but unparalyzed is to see that you are most certainly not.

We’re coming to visit America next week for two weeks, and my mom asked me if we’d had a conversation about not going back because of the war. I told her no. She asked if we would be having that conversation — and I told her it wasn’t in our radar. That it was a conversation that would not happen.

There is a clarity that comes from being in a time of crisis. Over the past week, we were scared, but we still felt safe. We’d have to be idiots to not feel safe after seeing all of the miracles that happened all over Israel. To say that over 1500 rockets fell in and around highly populated cities all over a country that’s the size of New Jersey and only six people died is miraculous. A bus blew up in Tel Aviv and only injured some of the people on board. That rockets aimed at the holy city of Jerusalem landed in Arab territory; there’s no other way to understand it. The army might say it’s because of the Iron Dome, that they are strong, and able, but we know that it’s because there’s a greater “Iron Dome” out there, looking out for all of us. We have to hold on to this clarity.

These are all things to be thankful for. Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Israel (not even in Har Nof, which is made up of A LOT of Americans!), our group of friends from Philadelphia decided to get together for a Shabbaton and eat Thanksgiving-themed food. Everyone made a dish or two, and it was a lot of fun. Jonathan and I made the turkey and gravy, and others contributed stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and onions, butternut squash soup, and salad. For dessert, we had our choice of either lemon meringue pie, pecan pie, pumpkin bread pudding with a dulce de leche sauce, or chocolate chip cookies. To say that we were full at the end of Shabbos would be the biggest understatement of the year, probably.

Throughout the whole experience, all I could think about is how grateful I am that all of our best friends got the opportunity to come to Israel at the same time, and that we’re all quite literally in this together. Just to give you a little bit of background: In college, I met two girls who very quickly became my best friends. They are now here, in Israel, with us. One of those girls, Hannah, is married to a guy that I grew up with, from kindergarten through college. Obviously, he’s here too and he is one of Jonathan’s best friends. Another one of our very good friends from college is here also, along with one more couple. And we all went to college together. Now, we’re all in seminary together. Quite literally, Hashem gave us this incredible support system in college as we were becoming more observant together, and continued to give us this support system through getting married (for some of us, and for others, soon!), and now, going to Israel.

So when we want to go to the supermarket and have to take those four buses to do so (and to share a cab home!), there’s someone to do it with. When we want to go shopping for a skirt, or for gifts for family and friends, there’s someone there. Need to vent? Not a problem. Missed a class? Here’s the notes. And all coming together for a meal that we all had a part in was a beautiful materialization of that reality. And it was a lot of fun.

We missed our family and friends in America, but we’re lucky to have a kind of Philadelphia, mismatched, quirky, and fun family here. And a lot of things to be thankful to HaKadosh Baruch Hu for.

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!