Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Chanukah Reflections


Yom Shlishi, 24 Kislev 5768/4 December 2007, Tuesday.

As we approach the lighting of the first candle of Chanukah this year, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. To Hashem, for allowing us to be here, as a family, and also as a nation. To those early gevurim, who answered "Whoever is for G-d, follow me!" with a resounding cheer. To the rabbi of this little community, for approving everything, individually, that goes into the makolet. To my husband and sons, for being brave enough to leave "the 'hood." To all those Israeli shopkeepers, for filling their shops with fresh sufganiot and brightly-colored packages, to remind me that this is OUR country. To the kids from Bar Ilan a few years ago, who brought the world's attention to the destruction being perpetrated under Har HaBayit. To those same young people, who are continuing to do something about it.

There are many other things about which to be grateful; but these are a few that come to mind at the moment.


Every task is quaintly different here. I sponga my floors, instead of vacuuming my rugs. I hang my clothes with clothespins on a metal and rubber rack, to air-dry them, when the weather permits. (They smell wonderful!) Avi and I shlep our agalot (cloth-covered wheeled carts) to the makolet, to buy groceries. We have gotten very clever about putting them in the under-belly of the 164 bus, and shlepping them to Malcha Mall, for larger shopping. We are managing fairly well without a car. I scrape the water off of my countertops with a little squeegee, when I am finished washing dishes. My stove has two ovens: one is for milchigs, and one is for fleishigs. I can bake in them simultaneously, with Rabbinic certification that there will be no "cross-contamination," no breach of the halacha against mixing meat and milk. I am having a wonderful time in my Jewish and Israeli home!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back On Line


Yom Revi'i, 18 Kislev 5768/28 November 2007, Tuesday night.

I should be in bed now... but today was one of those breathlessly happy days you hate to let go of.

We are finally settled in Neve Daniel. There are stories to tell of getting the lift, and the arrival of appliances, and starting ulpan... but they will keep. Today was a day I want to trap in time.

I finally got my internet hookup to work, even the wireless connection. I really, really cleaned the house. I gave a non-English speaking delivery man directions to our house, to deliver "the lost package," which I have been tracking (through various non-English speakers) for several days. I know, I know... this is not the stuff of romance novels. This is day-to-day life. When things work, that haven't worked in weeks. Dovid called, after far too long, and shared beautiful pieces of the Goldberger/Levi wedding (not the Shlomo-Ahuva wedding, but the Esther-Elie wedding -- many of the same players, but different members of the same families in the starring roles). I got to listen to Rav Shlomo Aviner and Tzafrir Ronen on the radio. I attended a really lovely "women's evening," and met many fine ladies, among them a favorite author, a favorite actress, and a number of women of such substance as to let me know I will be kept busy for many years, just hearing incredible stories. One thing you can say about people who move to Israel: they do not have boring stories. Okay, old well-loved gang from Baltimore, don't get offended. Your lives are interesting, too. Just think of what sorts of odd-balls decide to make aliyah: this one left Poland at twenty, and moved to England, and then to Israel... where she has lived for some 30 years. You know that first move meant a lot to her mama, at so many levels. And that one spent a night in jail, for doing something we would not consider a crime. And another has lived here since she was a baby, and can't imagine living anywhere else, even though mum and dad brought her from England. The whole family lives in Neve Daniel. Her husband's family lives in Maine, and can't quite figure their son out. The evening was mostly in Hebrew, with English subtitles. The main speaker hoped that next year, we will have evolved to the point of needing no translator. (BS"D!!!)

And of course, the most important thing I did today: I got the name and phone number of the guy who organizes the basketball league in Efrat for the 13-year-olds. Needless to say, to Dani, I am "the man." HOO-rah!

The first thing I want to say is that I have had a remarkably happy day just living in Israel. The second thing I want to say is that you should not believe people who say "Don't worry about it. Everybody in Israel speaks English." I think what they mean is that if you remain ignorant of the Hebrew language, but have fabulous patience, someone will eventually come along who can translate -- more or less -- for you and your Israeli counterpart. You should not be lulled into a foolish laziness by thinking that every person/clerk/salesperson/official will be able to communicate with you in your native tongue. Ain't happenin', Cap'n. Take classes. Buy programs, such as Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, or the new one by Rabbi Gold. Read easy Hebrew newspapers, such as Bereshit. I am not yet even close to fluent; but I am very grateful for the Hebrew I have taken the time to learn, and so is my family. Take ulpan. Everyone with whom I have spoken who went to work, and THEN tried to work in ulpan, wishes they had done it the other way around. There are good Hebrew teachers in the States. Find them.

There are other nice things to say. Mostly, I am just very grateful that Hashem has decided that the Eastmans are permitted to live in this beautiful, holy place. I hope that it is in His plan that we should watch many grandchildren, from all of our fine sons, grow up in this remarkable Land.

I hope many more of our old friends and teachers will be able to share this life with us, very soon. We are such a fortunate people!

Sunday, November 4, 2007



Yom Rishon, 23 Cheshvan 5768/4 November 2007, Sunday.

Today is the shift from Ma'ale Adumim, where we have lived for 26 days, to Neve Daniel. I will miss the lovely people who made us feel welcome, most especially the characters who own and operate "Pizza Nevo." There is something special about three brothers who won't let you order pizza until they can teach you to order in Hebrew, who invite you to do the mitzvah of taking challah, and who praise your children for being so reliable at building pizza boxes. Theirs is not just a food-service business. Pizza Nevo is a home-away-from home for the Eastmans, and will continue as such for a long time after we are no longer dwelling in the neighborhood of Mitzpe Nevo.

I will miss watching the sun light up the glass windows of Yerushalayim as I face the city to daven each morning. The view from the mirpeset has been lovely, morning and night. It is a pleasure for me to see Avi taking time to sit on the balcony in the evenings, enjoying the breeze, and the knowledge that he is gazing at the holiest city in the world. His continuous ability to marvel at the gift of being here revives the awe I feel.


Aryeh and I had a great hour-long discussion last night. (There seem to be more of these than we had time for in Baltimore. May it continue to be so.) He was talking quite animatedly about how incorrect people were when they warned him about Israeli "attitude."

"These kids are nice, Ema. They don't think the same way, about having an attitude, like 'get out of my face,' to protect themselves. I started out with an attitude here, like 'wha,?' (he affects a perfect teenager 'tude, arms folded, shoulder hunched slightly forward, keep-your-distance grimace) -- but I dropped it, because I didn't need it." It's weird and helpful when your kids give you these insights into the drama of being a teenager. I don't remember putting on exactly the same mask; but I was not a city teen, and not a boy. And times have gotten tougher.


"It's getting pretty sporty down here, sir!"

This is Avi's favorite quote from We Were Soldiers. He is using it a lot lately, to describe to the boys what life will be like for the next few days in Neve Daniel. We will start out on Monday night with exactly four pieces of furniture in the apartment: very thin mattresses, borrowed from a friend. No chairs, no tables, no fridge, no stove... etc. Tuesday, the appliances are due to arrive (and some time after that, they are supposed to be hooked up). Our real mattresses are scheduled for Thursday (with the beds that belong under them scheduled for some time three weeks or so from now). And the shipment is expected to land at the port of Haifa on Friday. We have roughly 16 suitcases, and assorted recently-purchased living essentials, to move to Neve Daniel... and we don't own a car. And are not quite ready to drive in Israel, in any case.

We grin at each other, and shrug.

"It's gonna get a bit sporty, boys," Avi says to his sons. The light of contest fills Dani's eyes. Aryeh shrugs, decides "'tude" is more effort than it's worth. He answers: "'We will ride into battle, and this will be our horse.'" He and his father understand each other.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Idiocyncrasies I Wouldn't Trade


Yom Chamishi, 13 Cheshvan 5768/24 October 2007.

I want to talk about the things I really like about Israel. Everything I say has been said before, by other olim dizzy with first love. But it's my blog; so I don't have any problem listening to me say it again.

Milk in bags is cool. Learning to use it without spilling it all over the place is even cooler.

I like doing "sponga." (For the uninitiated, sponga is the art of pouring a bucket of water on the floor, swishing it around with a cloth on a big squeegie attached to a stick, and then pushing the water down into little holes in the floor, or out the door. This may sound easy; but it takes practice. I have watched serious pros of 15 who have humbled me, and then taught me.) I hope I never see another vacuum cleaner again in my life.

I think I have mentioned how nice it is to see lovely young women saying Tehillim on buses. The same buses on which beautiful young men and women in uniform make me feel safer, if only for the large cache of automatic weapons they account for.

Every day, I take challah at the local pizza shop. I don't remember any establishment in Baltimore making me such an offer, though I am sure some nice lady got the job. But it feels really special here.

They make Israeli wine here. So I can buy really nice Israeli wine, for the price I used to pay for Chilean wine. Not bad.

The shwarma is made with turkey, or chicken, or beef, or lamb. I like lamb. Not to be eaten together, of course -- the plain yogurt has a kick like you wouldn't believe!

Shemittah is exciting, even though everyone disagrees about how to keep the laws. Fruit and vegetables have kedusha! Only flowers that have no scent are given on Shabbat, just to keep folks from messing up.

A shopkeeper I don't know expresses a very strong feeling about dealing with Arabs, and then "apologizes" by saying that his remark was racist. In the States, we are far too refined to speak so openly, even though we have more freedom of speech than Israelis do. That really got on my nerves.

Kohanim duchen at every Shachrit and Musaf.

Every business person we deal with welcomes us to Israel warmly, and wishes us a successful aliyah.

People who don't appear to be religious say things like "Baruch Hashem" and "Am segula."

The grocer tells me to just bring the money I am short tomorrow, and wishes me an erev tov, with a big smile.

The bus system is user-friendly. And some of the bus drivers are really warm, wonderful people. Like the guy who, smiling, took every single passenger as close to his door as possible on erev Shabbat, because it should be easy to shlep all those Shabbat groceries home.

The guy who is building our beds with his own hands buys his mattresses from a particular kibbutz for three reasons: the kibbutz is near the Qassam missile strike zone, and he thinks they can use the parnassa; the shop is 100% Jewish owned and operated; the mattresses are really good.

The mikva lady laughs and nods when I grab the bright orange towel. (She appreciates the political humor in a way that maybe you get best when you live here.)

Bnei Akiva really matters.

There are recycling cages or bins or machines all over the place. Kids can make money recycling glass bottles, like we could when we were kids.

It is beautiful here, in ways that only Home can be.

Monday, October 22, 2007

More Little Things


Yom Sheni, 10 Cheshvan 5768/22 October 2007, Monday

I do have to say another thing about the Dumpster Minyan. I find it very cool that we live in a country in which a bunch of businessmen can come home from work, knowing that the local minyanim will have already concluded... and meet out on the street, in a public place, and talk to the Ribono shel Olam together. It touches me in the same way as does saying Tehillim on the bus. Let's face it: you can say Tehillim on the bus in Baltimore. But your face burns, or you try to make it look like you are talking into your cell phone... because people in Baltimore don't move their lips in silent speech unless they are wearing foil on their heads to keep away the gamma rays... or unless they are standing on Reisterstown Road, doing spiritual air traffic control, or whatever that lady in the polka-dot Capri pants has been doing for at least a dozen years. (May she live and be well...)

Avi experienced his first I.P.S.S. (Israeli Price Sticker Shock) today. The bottle of Listerine, which seemed pricey at four bucks in the States, was positively prohibitive at roughly $12 in the "Super Pharm." To his credit, he decided that Israeli mouthwash -- no "great taste" prize-winner -- would be just fine, thank you very much.

Once again, the boys made their way around Yerushalayim without the 'rents just fine. I am so proud of them. They call on the cell phone every once in a while, to report their latest location. They feel empowered; and we feel comforted that they aren't at The Towers, bored, pretending that they are not at The Towers. Please G-d, let their lives in Israel stay busy enough, and full enough of meaning, that they don't have to fight those old dragons. And rescue all of our Jewish children from The Nothing To Do That Matters Monster, soon.

The Little Details of Life in Israel


Yom Rishon, 9 Cheshvan 5768/21 October 2007, Sunday

There is a "Dumpster Minyan" here. I kid you not. A bunch of guys meet up the street, near a couple of dumpsters, at 9 PM every night for ma'ariv. My guys are regulars. They assure me that there are no odor issues. I find men difficult to understand sometimes.


Motzei Shabbat, there was a concert in memory of Shlomo Carlebach, put on by the shul known as "the happy minyan." Chaim Dovid and Yehuda Katz were there. Ruby Harris (violin, of the Diaspora Yeshiva Band) showed up. It was really impressive. I had the feeling, by all the shmoozing, that the locals were a bit unaware of the musical and spiritual power in their midst. It was a quite nice little concert. We'll hear them again, with more "names" in the Jewish music business, next week. Such is life, when one lives in the same town as the musicians...


The paperwork is going surprisingly well. We lost a day, because you can't do the Misrad Hapnim thing in Maale Adumim. You have to go to Yerushalayim. The next day, we got up early... and Hashem was very kind to us. Between the hours of 8:30 AM and 12:30 PM, we got our teudat zehut (a very big deal), our bank, and our kupat cholim. We were told never to try to get more than one thing done in a day. So Hashem gave us a break. Anat, our very Israeli Misrad Hapnim representative, was totally scary, and then totally sweet. The Sabra thing, I guess. Prickly on the outside, and sweet on the inside. We were the happy freiers. I will wait and see whether or not my theory is correct. Yes, most people learn that you don't want to be a freier in Israel. (Treppenwitz' story about dealing with this issue is an award winner. For a great read, check out the following:
If you don't hear the glory theme from "Rocky" playing in the background, you need to read the article without multi-tasking. ) Nonetheless, I will continue to do what I know how to do; and I will only stop treating people sweetly when it absolutely fails for me. Daven for my success.


Today we were reminded that a mall is still a mall, even if it's in Jerusalem. None of the Eastmans was built for this kind of shopping experience.

Miracles and Milestones

BS"D Yom Chamishi, 6 Cheshvan 5768/18 October 2007, Thursday

My husband and I are not kids. I have been wanting to make aliyah since 1990; and he slowly but surely has become as obsessed as I. And now we are here.


Dani, who is 13, approached me during the lightning and thunder and rain last night. "Ema, was it you or Abba who told me to daven for rain? With extra kavanah, because now we live in Eretz Yisrael?" I couldn't remember. "Dani, maybe it was both of us." "Ema," he said, with shining eyes,"I davened with a lot of kavanah, and look! It's RAINING!" Kids "get it" better than we do.


The boys are quite excited about traveling to Jerusalem by themselves. We could never give them this much freedom in Baltimore. Today was their second day of finding their way around. Yesterday, big brother Josh (who made aliyah in 2005, and thus is a few steps ahead of us) showed them where not to go, and what not to do, in the City of Gold.

Landing at Home


Yom Sheni, 3 Cheshvan 5768/15 October 2007, Monday

Okay. I'll admit it. I am foolishly in love, like a guy on his third date. He knows she's The One. But he is definitely a bit giddy. I mean, who can still feel this way 20 years from now?

We landed in Israel on Wednesday, last week. It was dreadful getting out of America. I have this image of our possessions as a Quicksand Monster, sucking us down into Baltimore, fighting not to let us go. We were at least an hour late leaving for the airport, due to "stuff" that still had to be put somewhere, stored somewhere, given away. A metaphor for life in America. "Possessions are prison." My new motto. We didn't have the time we wanted to have with humans, due to stuff. That is truly sad. Nu? We took the lesson. In Israel, we WILL make due with less. Good for us: the US Army pension just might cover the bills.

We barely made the plane. The good side of that was that everything was exhilaratingly in hyper-drive. The Israeli El Al guy who grilled us had to talk super-fast. ("Whopackedthesebags?Weretheyeveroutofyourcontrol?Didyouacceptanypackages?Youunderstandthatwehavetoaskthesequestions,becauseinthepast

Our answers were equally fast-paced. It was like some kind of race that we were all in on. He wanted us to be successful, you could tell. And there were too many bags, and they were over-weight. I don't recommend flying like this. Organization is our friend. But Hashem determined that it would work. This time.

El Al misplaced our misspelled name on their manifest. We didn't exist. Still, they managed to find seats for us. Dani and Aryeh were in Row 29, with a grouchy seat-mate. (They spent the flight watching every movie they could get away with, parental supervision being rather far away.) Avi had the miracle of leg room, in Row 45, in an aisle bulkhead seat. Ruti was in Row 54, aka "Yeshivishe Bocher Central." Proof that G-d loves Jews is that He placed a woman who raises "crops of boys" in an aisle seat with seemingly 50 bochrim climbing over her head to find minyanim and opportunities to learn throughout the 10-hour flight. No one else could have put up with this graciously; and I had no problem pointing this out to the bochrim. Puh-puh-puh. It gave me the leverage to demand -- and to receive -- a phenomenal d'var Torah during our meal.

The flight personnel were uncommonly gracious. We had a wonderful flight. And one friend remarked that we may have been seated separately by Design, so as to have time to assimilate the amazing change that was taking place in our lives.