The last day of our vacation

Rivka told all the kids about mattressing (not sure if that's the real name but it's like banana boating except that you lie on your stomach instead of sitting) and it sounded like a lot of fun. So Rivka, Zvi, Leora and I left the zimmer around 8:15 on Thursday to go to Teverya. The night before it had been packed there to the point that you could barely walk but in the morning it was totally empty. The four of us got on the inflatable raft and lied on our stomach and the motor boat it was attached to went around and around in the kineret for 15 minutes. It was fun and the kids all enjoyed that.

Then we went home and packed up the car to check out. A nice family that had been staying at the zimmer had five free tickets to Hamat Gader that they didn't end up using and Yeshaya and Nava were free on account of their size. It's a good thing that it was free because it really isn't worth anything near the 58 shekel per person that it's supposed to cost. There is a small zoo, a water slide and hot springs. I stayed away from the water but the kids said that the lines at the slide were really long and it stunk by the water slide. There was a parrot show that was pretty good (Leora loved it) and a crocodile show that was too crowded. We didn't stay that long and then drove home.

On the way home we all (besides Nava who slept the entire drive home) rated the days from best to least best. I think the way we rated it is indicative of how hard it is to plan a trip for seven Greenstones. Thursday was the favorite day for both Leora (she loves water and thought the parrots were great) and Zvi (he loved the mattressing so much that it made up for the fact that he didn't like Hamat Gedar) but it was the worst day for Yeshaya and Rivka. Tuesday with the Hageges was Rivka's favorite day and everyone else had it second besides Leora who rated it fourth - ahead of only the travel day on Sunday. Shira and Yeshaya both thought Monday at Majrasa was the best day but Zvi and I thought it was the worst. I thought Wednesday's biking and canoeing was great but Zvi and Yeshaya both had it fourth. So we had a bit of complaining almost every day but overall I think that looking back everyone had a great time.

Biking and canoeing

We had a coupon book which was full of things to do in the North. We found a bike trail that had family bikes to rent not too far from us in Daganya. Rivka and Zvi each got their own bike and the rest of us got a five person bike. There are pedals on each side in the front and back. Yeshaya and Nava couldn't reach the pedals but Leora helped when she was in the mood. We got the bikes for an hour and it was a real workout.

 Then we went canoeing at Rob Roy which we remembered from three years ago. When we came last time it was May and the place was empty. It was packed this time and there was a 30 minute waiting list. We had to canoe around swimmers and others in the water. It was still fun (at least for some of us).

Then we went back to our place and ate some Yavniel pizza before heading out to Teverya for a light and water show. It turned out that we were a little early so we just walked around and got spots so we could see the show. Yeshaya also went on a pony ride since he was the only one who didn't get a turn on a horse the other day.

Hermon with Hagege

About six months ago we thought about doing our entire summer tiyul with Ethel and family. Shira and Rivka started getting nervous about booking a place and Ethel really didn't know yet what they were doing. So we decided to just book our vacation and we'd try to do something with them if it worked out. They ended up staying much further north in Kfar Szold. They came up with the idea of doing Har Hermon on Tuesday together so we left at 9 in the morning and met them in Kfar Szold which is right on the way.

At the Hermon we took cable cars to the top of the mountain and then there was a walking tour up there. After taking cable cars back down we went on this roller coaster type ride. The kids had a great time on that so we finally gave in to them begging and let them all go a second time. We were then going to stop at a small hike and spring but it turned out to be closed already. We had to get going because Rivka and Shira were going to the Shweky concert that night.

This day wasn't in water at all (it was also much cooler on top of the mountain but we all got sunburned) so we have lots of pictures. Here are a few

Monday at Majrasa

We hadn't planned this trip at all. So each night Shira and I sat down to figure out what to do the next day. Sunday night we decided to try a hike at Majrasa (מג'רסה) on Monday. We heard it was a hike in the water and figured the kids would enjoy it. One thing we learned (again) on this tiyul is that it is impossible to please everyone. Some kids really liked the hike but others really hated it. It's about a 30 minute walk (with the little kids) through water - it gets as high as my thighs in some places. Then we walked back, (half via land and half via water), got popsicles and ate lunch.

It was still very early in the day and we really didn't know what we were doing next. We decided to drive to Katzrin since we were nearby and we heard there were things to do. There was supposedly a water factory, a wine factory and some other stuff. We got there though and we quickly realized that it just wasn't a touristy place anymore. The water factory had closed to tourists a while before and it was just a regular city. The kids weren't in great moods by that time and after hanging around in the shopping center we decided to leave and head back to the zimmer.
After hanging out in the zimmer for a couple of hours and eating dinner we went to Kfar Kamma to go horseback riding. Rivka and Zvi each got to ride a horse and then he gave Rivka a short 5 minute lesson so she could try jogging by herself. Then Leora got to go on the horse for a few minutes and Nava wanted to sit on one but she got scared when she was actually up there. Kfar Kama is an interesting place (the guy gave us some history) - the population is Circassian. They were booted from Russia in the 19th century and moved all over the world. There are two towns in Israel that are populated with them. They're Muslim but serve in the IDF. The man was really nice and the kids had a good time.

Vacation up North

I decided to start blogging again when we do fun things that we want to remember. It's nice that we can refer back to this blog to see what we did three years ago so we might as well have this as a reference for all our fun activities. I don't expect to have any regular readers but this is intended for our family and for anyone who stumbles across it.

Sunday we began a five day trip to the North. Shira booked early and did a lot of price comparing and found us a nice zimmer in Yavniel called Tropiqan.  We didn't get an early start because we hadn't started packing before Sunday morning. We also had company for Shabbos and had to get the house ready (Shira would never leave without having a clean house first). So we left around 10:30 for the drive. Some kids weren't anxious to join us on vacation but in the end everyone was forced to come. Choosing where everyone sits is never an easy task in the car and squishing in all the luggage was a challenge. Finally, we were on the road.

The drive up wasn't too bad - we thought we missed a turn but in the end we were going the right way. We got to the zimmer a little early but they let us check in and we were pleasantly surprised at how nice it was. It's a new place and they have 5 zimmers next to each other with a beautiful enclosed yard. There's a decent swimming pool and lots of lawn furniture. All the guests the entire time we were there were frum so either we got the pool to ourselves or there were separate times for the men and women. The only problem with the zimmer was that it was a little small - just one bedroom and a living room area. So we had two twin size beds, a big pullout couch and two mattresses. This led to a few more fights about where everyone would sleep but we ended up moving everyone around every night and the kids were more or less satisfied. The owners of the zimmer were very nice and we highly recommend this to anyone interested.

Yavniel is an interesting community. There is a large religious community which seems to be almost entirely Breslov. There is a main shul with tons of minyanim which is a sefardi shul that is apparently run by Breslovers. They built a huge shul next door which looks very nice from the outside but isn't quite complete so they're still davening in the old place. There is also a pizza store, falafel stand, makolet and small grocery story. It really has most things you need. It's about a 15 minute drive from Teverya so the location is good. There are tons of zimmers in Yavniel so in shul or at the stores you see lots of other vacationers.

When we got to the zimmer we went for a family swim (even I went swimming for a while) and had lots of fun. After a little more relaxation we went to Teverya to walk along the midrachov and eat dinner. Overall, it was just a relaxing day without too much activity.

Keeping Shabbos

We needed to buy aronot for our apartment/house that we will hopefully have soon. Shira found what she wanted on the IKEA website for $99.99 and we'd decided we were going to get three of them. Then a friend of ours told us that they were having a one day sale and they'd be $49.99 each on Saturday only (limit one per customer). She tried calling but they wouldn't let us purchase them on Friday or Sunday. Shira though spoke to a non-Jewish friend at work who offered to go with her husband and buy them for us since she had to get some stuff at some point at IKEA anyway. When Shira told me about it I was a little uncomfortable with that since it would be asking a goy to do melacha for us on Shabbos. I spoke to Rabbi Marwick (and a couple other people I trust) and he said that it would be preferable not to do that so we'd just have to pay the extra hundred dollars. Too bad.

Shira kept checking the website. I'm not sure why but she loves checking on things she plans on buying and all of a sudden today the website listed the bookcases for just 49.99. Shira tried calling to confirm the price but there was no answer so we immediately jumped in the car and drove out there (about 25 minutes away). When we got there we asked someone where they were and he said, "oh you mean the ones that are on sale Saturday?" We explained the website said the price is 49.99 and he said that it's 99.99 today but we can go talk to a manager if we want.

So we went to find a manager and she said, "It's only Saturday and anyway you guys would be too late. if you want to take advantage of that sale you have to be here before the stores open on Saturday and then we'll give tickets out to the first people in line." We said that the website says they're 49.99 and she said that it says it's only Saturday and she asked some guy to show us and she walked away. The guy showed us the front page of the IKEA site which did say that it's a one day only sale on Saturday so Shira showed him where it said it was only 49.99. On the page of the bookcases it made no mention of it being a one day sale. So he left to go find the manager again

She came back about 5 minutes later and said that she would honor the pirce and give us 1 for the 49.99. We said we wanted 3 so she said that she could give us 2 but that was it. They would have to override the price which they couldn't do at the tellers so we'd have to buy them and then walk over to returns and they'd give us back 100 bucks. So we got 3 for 200 dollars instead of 300. The same price as had the non-Jew bought it for us on Shabbos had she gone before the store opened and waited in line which she probably wouldn't have done because we didn't even know you had to do that. So we really came out ahead. Yay, one more thing falling into place.

Seven weeks from today

In seven weeks from today we will land in Israel to make aliya. We have a lot to get done before we move and we're starting to get a little anxious. We still don't have a house or apartment to live in once we get there but we're actually not very worried about that. Something will come through. I still haven't finalized my contract to work there but I'm pretty confident that will be OK too. Shira has already bought some furniture and appliances. She has already registered the kids in school.

The movers are coming on July 15th. Shira listed a bunch of the stuff on Craig's list and we're starting to sell a lot of the furniture that we're not taking. Shira also cleaned out three bedrooms and got rid of a lot of old clothes that we're not taking. So we've made quite a bit of progres.

This weekend Shira is going to Toronto with the three little kids and then once she comes back she's going to get the house in order and I'm sure that she'll finish everything that needs to be done. I'll try to help where I can and hopefully the kids will at least stay out of the way.

Stem Cell Donation

I got news today that the person to whom I donated my stem cells passed away. I performed the donation about 7 months ago and I knew he was sick because I'd been called to ask if I could donate white blood cells. Originally I was supposed to do this at the beginning of this month but he was too sick so they postponed it until the first week of July. I never found out who he was because the rules are that they only tell you if the recipient agrees after one year. Now, I'll never know.

There have been a couple of drives recently for people to get tested and I also got a phone call last week from someone who was found to be a potential match. The process wasn't that difficult and was rewarding. After I donated I sent an email to a few people describing the process and I figured I'd post it here also so I could just send the link if anyone had questions in the future.

In 1994, when I was in Yeshiva University there was a drive to get people tested for Jay Fineberg who needed a bone marrow donation so I was tested. It didn't cost anything and wasn't a big deal so I figured that I might as well. At that time the only way to get tested was by them taking a little blood. Now I understand that they just take it from the blood. I wasn't a match for him but my sample was put in a national registry. I didn't hear anything until about 7 years ago when I was contacted that I was a potential match. They had tracked me to Missouri but didn't realize that I had moved to Maryland. The mail was forwarded though and they updated my address. Turns out that there was a better match for that person then and I didn't hear anything again until a couple months ago. At that time they told me that there was about a 1 in 12 chance that I'd be the best match.

This time they called again a couple weeks later and said that I should go in for more blood to be drawn so they could do more testing to see if I'm the best possible match. So I went down to Hopkins in Baltimore and they drew the blood. One week later (I was told that it normally takes 2-4 weeks and I'm not sure why mine was faster) I got a call that I was indeed the best possible match. They wanted to be sure that I wanted to continue through the process and donate. I assured them that I did. So they put me in touch with Sarah Pogue at the NIH in Bethesda. She would walk me through everything else that I needed to do.

There are two possibilities for donating marrow. One is a surgical procedure where they take marrow from your back and pelvic bones. The other is a PBSC donation which is done through the blood and is less painful and an easier recover. My patient was a 61 year old man in the US with Myelodysplastic Syndromes (MDS). His doctors, thankfully, chose the PBSC donation. So they sent a car for me to go to NIH for a complete physical (EKG, chest xrays, blood work etc) to make sure that I was healthy enough to donate. I was so we scheduled the donation.

For 4 days before the donation I had to get shots of filgrastim each day. This increases the number of stem cells in the blood. Most of your stem cells are in the marrow but each person has a few in the blood. The goal during these 5 days is to move as many stem cells from the bones to the blood. The amount  of medicine you get is determined by your weight so I needed 2.6 ml. They don't do more than 2 ml in one shot so I had to get two shots each time- one in each arm. I also had the option to get them in my stomach but I'm very ticklish and there was no way I was going to allow a shot in my stomach. The first shots have to be done at the hospital so they can monitor you. Since it was on a Sunday, Rivka agreed to come with me. They picked us up at 9 AM and we met Sarah at NIH in Bethesda. She gave me one shot in each arm and they didn't really hurt much.

For each of the next three days, a different nurse came to our house to give me the shots. Each time she gave me a shot it hurt more than the previous time. I also had a constant pain in my lower back and a headache. It wasn't unbearable  at all and I really wasn't in a lot of pain (probably because I was taking tylenol) but it was just annoying. By Wednesday though I was also feeling worn down and a little weak and very tired.

Thursday morning, they picked me up at 5:45. I had been up since 4 because I couldn't sleep anymore and had eaten breakfast and caught up on all my email. I got to the hospital around 7 and Sarah met me. She gave me the last shots and a nurse started prepping me for the actual procedure. I hadn't davened at home because it was way too early so I went into a private room to daven and then went back to finish the preps. I had brought two books to read but the nurse told me that it would be too hard to read and I should watch movies instead. So I chose Mall Cop and Slumdog Millionaire.

Then the nurse started hooking me up. From my left arm was a big needle like they usually use to draw blood when you donate with a tube coming out that split into two and went across my body to the machine which was on my right. She also gave me a squeezy ball to squeeze every few seconds. I was told that I could not move that arm at all. Near the right wrist was another needle, much smaller but with three tubes going into it. One was to put the filtered blood back into my body. Another carried water and the third had calcium. The procedure started around 8:45.

I started watching Mall Cop but I was really bored so I asked them to turn it off and to give me my books. I was told to be very careful not to move my left arm at all but I was allowed to move my right arm as long as I was careful so it worked out pretty well reading the book. The only problem was that occasionally I'd forget to squeeze with my left hand. Every time I forgot, the machine beeped and it stopped pumping until a nurse came to turn it back on. After a couple hours they determined how many stem cells were there per liter of blood and how many the patient needed. So they decided that they had to filter about 20 liters of blood. They could have had to do up to 24 liters so this was pretty good. A person only has about 5 liters of blood so they'd filter it and put it back in and then filter it again.

Then I had to go to the bathroom. They were pumping me with water so it didn't help that I had gone just before they put the needles in my arms. I was really feeling uncomfortable so I just had to bite the bullet and try to get it all in the pitcher without spilling. I assured the nurse that I'd be OK on my own but it wasn't easy going while lying down and not being allowed to move my left arm. Thank God it went okay and I didn't spill any.

Soon after that excitement, at around noon Shira came to keep me company. Right after she got there some blood started oozing from the right arm which I had been moving quite a bit so the nurse just fixed the needle and we were good. Shira and I counted down until we had done 20 liters. I finished at around 1:30 and then they finished the paperwork and let us leave. My back was hurting and I had a headache and I was worn down but it was good to be able to move again. I felt that way most of the day on Friday also but by Shabbos morning I was completely OK. The only lasting effects are bruises all over my body. My platelet count was a little low so I have bruises where I got the shots and where the needles were. They don't hurt though and I'm fine.

Shira wrote a nice long letter (we couldn't sign our names) to the recipient and we won't know who it was or how he's doing for at least a year and even then it's only if he agrees. We do know that a doctor from the hospital took the blood to the patient and he had got the marrow the next morning. Even though they took 20 liters of blood from me, they gave  most it back to me and he was left with only about a half liter. It still looked like blood even though it was basically just the stem cells. A refuah shleima to the recipient and hopefully my stem cells will help him live a longer life.

That's basically the email that I sent. We got a letter from the recipient a couple months later thanking us for the gift and telling us a bit about his family but without giving away any details about him personally. We've been rooting for him ever since. We were all sad to get the news today.

RBS it is

After much debate and research we finally decided to settle in the Beit Shemesh area. We just felt that the adjustment would be the easiest for all of us there given the number of Americans who live there and the style of the schools. It's not perfect but no community is perfect so we'll try this out. We're just going to rent at first and we'll see how it is. We've done some investigating of the various neighborhoods and we are leaning towards Ramat Shilo. We have friends there, including our former Rabbi, and there are Americans but there are also Israelis and other olim. We're all excited to finally know where we're going.

Snow, snow and more snow and then some more snow

Half the city of Baltimore wants to make aliya now. It snowed about 28 inches on Shabbos and now it's snowed a lot more today. The kids haven't had school since Friday morning and we have no clue when it's going to start again. Here are some pictures.
This is after the first part of the snowstorm on Monday morning. Since then we've had a lot more snow!

You can see the fence in the background in the picture below. That's a four feet fence. You can see about 6 inches of it. In the picture at the bottom you can see our trees falling down onto the wires of my next door neighbor. He had to go out to try to shake them off so his wires wouldn't break.

Even Shira, who grew up in Toronto, says that she never remembers seeing this much snow. The kids are going crazy being stuck in the house all day. Maybe tomorrow we'll be able to get out a little. We're all very excited to be moving to sunny Israel and not suffering through any more winters like this.

No money

I know that I wrote last week that we wouldn't know for a while but apparently Nefesh B'Nefesh did review our application already. We were  accepted but will not be receiving any financial assistance. In the letter they do say that they'll still provide us with emotional support. That and a few shekel will get me a cup of coffee when I land in Israel.They do provide assistance with the paperwork and stuff like that. We'll probably still take their flight. The only thing we lose by taking their flight is an extra piece of luggage per person. Shira is excited to be on the flight with hundreds of people making aliya at the same time so it's worth the loss of luggage since we're sending a lift anyway. I guess this won't change any of our plans in any way but it sure would have been nice had they also given us money.

We've been approved for aliya!

I just got a call from the Jewish Agency that we were approved for aliya! We didn't really have any doubts about them approving it but it's nice for it to be official. They said that we have to submit the applications for the visa three months before we go. I also spoke to Nefesh B'Nefesh yesterday and they said that they won't have the flight information until Pesach time and they won't review our application until around then. Now we can just concentrate on getting our house in order so we can put it on the market.

People coming and going

Our house has been like Grand Central Station the last couple of days. Yesterday, we had someone come to look at our dining room table and chairs to see if they wanted to buy it, then someone came to buy our bookcases, then for our sukka and then finally the painter came to look over the house again. Today, the painters were here early to start painting and then the cleaning lady came. Someone from came to see if he wanted to buy any of our used seforim. He wasn't that interested in most of the stuff we were dumping but he filled a box. House goes on the market in less than a month and hopefully it will be all ready by then.

Empty bookcases

We emptied all the books from our living room bookcases so we'll be able to move them for the painters on Monday. We also think that we have a buyer for them. We (meaning Shira) are still trying to decide what furniture we're going to take to Israel but we know we're not taking the bookcases because they were just way too tall so we didn't know if they'd fit in our house.
We posted on that we wanted to sell our sukka and someone called us 10 minutes later that they wanted to see it. Hopefully, we'll be able to get rid of that soon too. Making progress slowly but surely. At least we still have a lot more time.

Starting to clean the junk

Shira and I both took the day off today so we could start cleaning the basement. (We also took a break at some point to go see Up in the Air which was OK but not great.) We went through all the dolls and games and filled up 6 large garbage bags. 3 went out to the garbage and we'll give 3 away. We still had toys and stuff all over the floor that we hadn't finished sorting. When Yeshaya came home we explained to him that the stuff left on the shelves were things we were taking and the other stuff we were either giving away or throwing out. We made sure that the kids couldn't see the stuff we weren't keeping so they couldn't argue with our decisions. Yeshaya felt that the things on the floor should be in garbage bags also so he got about 10 garbage bags and emptied legos into one, put some containers in another, put blocks in another etc. By the time we noticed had filled all his bags. He's been the least enthusiastic about the move so at least now he's starting to get excited.

Interview with the shaliach

After a few cancellations, we finally met with the shaliach today and it went without any problems. We should find out in about two weeks if we've been accepted to make aliya. I guess the main point of the interview was to see the originals of our paperwork and to make sure we're really Jewish and serious about aliya. She seemed convinced so I think we're good.

I have a couple more vacation days left this year so I think Shira and I are going to spend those days "decluttering." We'll get rid of toys and clothes that we no longer need to prepare our house to be shown.

My trip to Israel

My father already wrote about my flight to Israel. He's been bugging me to blog so I'll post.

The Gottliebs picked me up on Friday morning at 10:45 and I drove back with them and I picked Eliana up at school. We went to the Merkaz and bought pizza for lunch and candy to take back to our friends in Baltimore. They had their cousins for dinner on Friday night and we stayed up until 1 AM. On Shabbos, I met a lot of her friends and I liked them all. I hope we move there. After Shabbos I took a bus with her cousins to Yerushalayim and met my grandmother at the tachana merkazit. We took a bus back to Modiin but we had to wait around for 45 minutes first.

On Sunday, Savta took a bus to go to the Kotel. Then we met the Pilichowskis (who were visiting Israel from Los Angeles) and we sifted through artifacts from the Beit Hamikdash. We went to the mall and had pizza. Yair, Dina, Avigayil and Temima (4 of my first cousins from 3 families) slept over that night. My second cousin, Daphna also came to visit.

My grandmother took all the people who slept over and me to the Blind Museum on Tuesday. We came in and it was PITCH BLACK and Temima and Avigayil got scared so they went out with Savta. So just Dina, Yair and I stayed with the group. We went into a rainforest and then we went on a boat. We also went into a music and a cafeteria (it was still pitch black and you couldn't see anything the whole team). We had to buy a soda without seeing anything so we just gave money and the cashier, who was blind, could tell how much we gave and she knew where each soda was so we just told her what we wanted and she got it. Savta, Avigayil and Temima met us in the cafeteria. From there we took a bus to the train station and a train back to Modiin. It took us about 3 hours to get home.

On Tuesday, the Pilichowskis picked us up (they got a driver with a van each day) from Modiin and we went to a Maccabim archaeological place. They had a model house and there were different activities. For example, they showed us how they made coins in those days. Savta and I went to Meah Shearim on Wednesday and met the Pilichowskis for lunch at a falafel place (Moshiko). That afternoon I met Sivan Roth (a friend from Modiin) and Eliana Gottlieb (a friend from Baltimore who is there for the year) at the mall and we got pizza and I got earrings.

Savta woke me up early Thursday morning so we could see the Pilis off at the airport. My uncle and aunt, Eli and Sarah came to Savta's house for tuna caserole for lunch. While I was waiting to go meet friends at the mall, Savta and I played lots of games of Pentago. I met a bunch of friends from Chashmonaim (who I had to school with when we were there for the year) at the mall and we had pizza again.

The main point of my trip was my cousin's bat mitzva. Friday morning we went to the Kibbutz where the hotel was and of course we got there early (my Savta is early for everything). We got our rooms and unpacked. Then we went for a brunch and they had caricatures there. After the brunch we got ready for Shabbos. There was so much food! After dinner there was an oneg with more food. They had a girls' "minyan" on Shabbos morning. Everyone davened together but then all the girls from the bat mitzvah went into a separate room and lained. I went up to the Torah and said a pasuk (baruch atah Hashem lamdeini chukecha) two times instead of the brachos that boys make. Right after Shabbos, Saba and Savta came in the taxi with me to the airport where I met Rabbi Tendler for my uneventful flight home.

Interview cancelled

The first piece of red tape that we have to cross for the aliya is our meeting with the shaliach from the Jewish Agency. First they tried to insist that we had to go to New York for our interview but then they scheduled one in Rockville, MD for us. Apparently even after they closed down the office the shaliach still occasionally comes to Rockville. So they scheduled it for today. Shira worked a little extra on Monday so she wouldn't have to work today but then a couple nights ago we got an email from them:
Are you still planning to make aliyah in July 2010?
I am asking this since all our interviews for this day ( we have one day) are booked and we have someone that wants to make aliyah this December (2009) and needs an interview. If your aliyah date is in July 2010 I will need, unfortunately, to cancel your interview for now. I will probably reschedule for you a new interview at the end of this month or the beginning of next month since we are re-opening our office in Washington D.C and we will have a lot of interviews available.
It's not a big deal so of course we agreed to postpone ours but we just like to get these kinds of things out of the way.

Last Thanksgiving in the US

In honor of our last Thanksgiving before making aliya we had a real serious Thanksgiving meal today. The Shields invited us over along with the Wachs and Taragins for a huge meal. We had turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, salad and  apple and pecan pie. It was a real Thanksgiving festive meal. We all had a great time. I think we'll survive just fine without having Thanksgiving in Israel (I know that some people have huge Thanksgiving meals there but it doesn't count if you start your meal before any football games have started) but leaving these people in Baltimore is one of the sad things about making aliya.

First leg of Rivka's pilot trip

Rivka left for Israel today to be there for my niece's bat mitzva next Shabbos. She really wanted to go and my sister really wanted her there but we needed to find an adult to accompany her. It turned out that Rabbi Hillel Tendler was going for 10 days so I asked if he'd mind if she tagged along. He said it would be no problem so they're going together.

Their flight was scheduled to leave Baltimore today at 6:30 PM and then leave Philadelphia at 9:30. We decided to leave around 3 because we figured that Thanksgiving traffic could be bad and we didn't want to take any chances. So we picked up Yeshaya and Nava and Rabbi Tendler and we hit a little traffic. We still got to the airport by 4 only to find out that their 6:30 flight had been delayed to 9:30 due to the bad weather. So US Air said that they'd put them in a taxi to Philadelphia. We were a little nervous that there might be traffic but they had plenty of time and the driver said that he knew back roads to get there. I got an email from them around 7 that they made it to the airport and the website says that the flight to Israel is scheduled to leave on time.

I was about to post this and they called. They made it through security and gave in their luggage and are sitting by the gate waiting for the plane to board.

real estate agent

Things are starting to get more real. We met with a real estate agent to discuss listing our house. Looks like we'll probably put it on the market in about two months. This is the first house we've ever owned so this would be pretty sad for someone a little more sentimental than I am. It will be weird to no longer own a house though after owning this one for 8 years. Hopefully we'll get one soon on the other side of the ocean.

Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty

My great grandparents may have come through Ellis Island on their way into this country so we thought it would be appropriate for us to go visit before we left. We were going to Teaneck for Shabbos and had initially intended on sleeping there Thursday night also but last minute we decided to go Friday morning. After Shira exercised (she's still crazy) and I went to shul, we started on our journey. We got to Liberty Park around 10:45 to take the ferry to Ellis Island. It was interesting enough to entertain the kids for 45 minutes or so which was good because we really couldn't spend any longer there before we had to get back on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty. Security there was really tight so we had to be there for almost two hours instead of the one hour we had planned. The bad part was that you need to make reservations two months in advance to go to the top otherwise you can only go to the base. You have to walk 156 steps to get to the base and only Yeshaya, Zvi and I were brave enough to do it. It was a little disappointing but OK.

Then we got on the ferry to get back to our car so we could to Passaic and drop Rivka at her friend's house before we continued onto Teaneck. We hit typical NY traffic and got to the Flamholz' about 15 minutes before candle lighting. We quickly emptied the car and showered and were ready on time. We had a really nice Shabbos. On Motzei Shabbos, Shira went to her friend's engagement party and I went to Passaic to my friend's event l'zecher nishmas his daughter and as a fundraiser for the organization l'zecher nishmasa called Be'er Miriam. We both had a good time. This morning we stopped for Dunkin Donuts and then drove back home.

Next steps after the paperwork

Shira got together all the paperwork that we needed for Nefesh B'Nefesh (NBN): 7 US passports, 6 Canadian passports (I'm not Canadian), 7 birth certificates, 1 marriage certificate + apostle (it was Canadian so we had to send a letter and 11 dollars to the Israel office in Canada for proof that it was valid), 7 medical forms, 1 financial form, proof of Judaism and a letter of recommendation. We sent it all in to NBN and they said that they now had everything they needed.

The next thing we had to do was set up an interview with the shaliach. NBN's website said that there was an office in Rockville so we called to set up an appointment. They told us that the office had closed and we had to go to New York. I called NBN and asked if we had any other options. They told us that when the Israel Aliya Center closed offices around the country they had said that people wouldn't have to drive more than two hours for an interview so we should call back. I called back and they said it was true and that they'd call us when they knew when the shaliach would be in Rockville. We got that call last night and we're scheduled for an interview on 12/3.

Things are moving along. Next things for us to do include: choosing a community, looking into schools (particularly for Rivka who is starting 7th grade next year) and putting our house up for sale.

We're coming back

We finished all our paperwork for our applications to Nefesh B'Nefesh last week to make aliya in the summer. After spending a year in Israel and reading the blog book so many times we just really wanted to go back. Actually, I was the last holdout. Rivka and Zvi insisted that we move back and even Leora got in on the act. They wouldn't leave me alone until I finally agreed. So I spoke to my boss at work and got her approval and now we really had no excuse.

So we'll start updating the blog again. We probably won't update it as frequently as we did while we were in Israel as I'll try to mostly stay on topic with aliya related activities and avoid our mundane daily activities but I'm sure we'll post about other stuff along the way.

Acharon Acharon Chaviv

I was told by David that this would be the last entry on our blog as we are in the midst of turning it into a book.

I have been wanting to write for the longest time, but never seemed to find the time. There have been so many thoughts and emotion swirling around as we prepared for our departure from Israel and return to Baltimore.

Our last few days in Israel were hectic but at the same time enjoyable. I guess the craziness at the airport and the packing up didn't allow us too much time to reflect on the fact that we were leaving. But now that I've been home for a few weeks I have had the time to think about what I wanted to say.

Our year in Israel was awesome, amazing, better than we imagined. Even though we had a rough start with adjusting, it was well worth it. Firstly, the community of Modiin where we were living was incredible. People were so kind, caring and considerate. We felt like we were a part of something special. David pointed out that the people who make aliyah, are the cream of the crop. There is no one who makes aliyah that doesn't have to sacrifice something to fulfill their dream and you see it in the manner in which these people welcome you. We rarely spent a shabbos alone, and when we did so it was by choice. I just really wanted to say thank you to all of you out there from Modiin. You all helped make our year as incredible as it was.

Another fantastic thing for us was being so close to family. What a treat. With David's parents and grandmother living so near we were able to take advantage and see them so often. How incredible that we were able to share in birthdays, school presentations and just daily life with them. Knowing that they were always thinking of us and watching out for us on a daily basis made us feel so loved and cared for. The memories that we have from this year with them are priceless.

Then of course there's the aunts, uncles and tons of cousins. Whether it was a phone call, email or visit, we felt very spoiled by all the attention we got. It was amazing how many times they were there to help us out with advice, assistance and friendship. We treasure the moments we spent together and will cherish the memories forever.

Just as important is the Land of Israel, Eretz Yisroel. We feel so privileged to have been able to spend the year exploring our heritage. The specialness of Israel is in the air. We literally traveled from the northern most tip to the southern most tip and many places in between. The lessons our children learned are invaluable. To be a part of Am Yisroel in the land of our people is such an honor. We were made to feel this way on a consistent basis. When the fact that we were only there for a year came up in conversation with anyone whether it be friend or stranger, religious or secular, it was always the same response. Why are you leaving? This is your home! This is where you belong! You must come back! We felt so wanted. You would never expect or get such a reaction in North America.

Now that we are back in Baltimore and relatively settled in (except for Rivka who is still at Camp Sternberg - sleepover camp) we can say that we are truly happy to see our friends and family here that we missed over the year. They all supported us in our "crazy" adventure. I must admit that having air conditioning that actually cools your house off and soft, fuzzy carpet under your feet is a definate comfort that we missed in Israel. But despite all the luxuries of living in North America, I miss so many wonderful things about Israel.

May this blog be an inspiration for all who read it to support, visit or move to Israel and may we have the courage, strength and money to make aliyah in the near future.

Trip back to Baltimore

On Monday morning, Erick came to pick us up with the pre-loaded car at 7 AM to go to the airport. Shira left with my mother, Zvi, Leora and Yeshaya a few minutes before we left. My father, Rivka and I squeezed into their big van and left. They returned the car and met us at the curb to help us load four buggies with our bags. We then stood in line to answer security questions and then went to the next line to give in our bags. When it was our turn they asked Shira how far along she was and when she said 31 weeks they informed her that she couldn't fly without a written note from her doctor. We knew you couldn't fly after 32 weeks but thought there was no problem before that. Shira actually checked their website and it only says: "Pregnant women can fly on domestic or international flights up to the 32nd week of pregnancy." So we called her doctor and her secretary faxed us a note that gave us permission to fly. Only problem was that it was in Hebrew and we needed a note in English so we called her back and she faxed another note. It was great that my parents were there with us because they took the kids around the airport while we waited. Then they somehow lost our registration in the computer - apparently they had lost a bunch of people's so they had no record of the fact that we were allowed two extra bags. They let us take them anyway and didn't give us any problems despite the fact that some of the bags were way overweight. We then waited in a couple more lines but there were no more adventures.

When we got on the plane we realized that they had messed up our seats and instead of putting us in two rows with 3 in each row, we were in 3 rows with 3, 2 and 1. So Rivka agreed to sit in the third row if we couldn't find someone to switch. We weren't very confident because we had to find someone to give up an aisle seat in exchange for a middle seat. As luck would have it, the person who was supposed to sit in the aisle seat was Eyal Raviv, who heads a peace website, and before I could even finish the sentence asking him to switch he had said yes. After almost all the passengers were on, there was a little commotion one row in front of us over to the side. There were three flight attendants trying to force an Israeli ~20 year old to give up his bulkhead seat next to his friend. He was refusing. They explained to him that there was a mistake and they needed the seat for this guy who suddenly appeared behind them. He was HUGE and there was no way he could have fit into a regular seat. I figured he must have been a basketball player or something and at the end of the flight I heard him say his name and googled him and found out that he's 6' 10". This Israeli guy was refusing but finally after 10 minutes he realized that he really had no choice and he finally relented and switched seats. The flight was good except that the four kids slept a total of four hours combined so we had to entertain them quite a bit. Overall, they behaved really nicely on the long trip.

At the airport we hired a porter because there was no way we could get all the duffels ourselves. He took us out to the curb and Shira went to get the car from long-term parking. We had found someone in Baltimore to drive our car to the airport on Sunday so it was there waiting for us. It still took a while and by the time Shira came back and we had loaded the car it was almost exactly two hours after we had landed. Shira and Rivka then hopped in a cab to go sleep at Hindy's house in Brooklyn since Rivka was taking a bus the next morning to camp. So the rest of us drove back to Baltimore. Zvi was noticing all the things that are different on the roads between Baltimore and Israel. The biggest difference was that it started raining on the way home. Rain in the summer! The kids all slept almost the entire way home but I managed to stay awake.

Shira was back home by noon on Tuesday and we've been busy unpacking since then. In addition to our 20 duffels (I know that I wrote 19 in another post but we had actually sent back 6 and not 5) we had lots of boxes that we had left in the house. We lived an entire year without all this stuff and didn't miss it at all but Yeshaya was really excited when he saw all the toys. We're still unpacking but hopefully we'll be done by Shabbos. Everyone went to camp on Tuesday and had a great time and had no trouble adjusting to life back in the States. Hopefully Rivka is also having a blast in camp. It's funny because Yeshaya doesn't remember Baltimore at all. I guess that's normal since he wasn't even 2 yet when we left but for the rest of us it feels like we never left. He was downstairs playing and he asked me if there was a bathroom downstairs or if he had to go upstairs to make. I told him we had one so he tried to find it but got lost on his way.

We're approaching the end of this blog. It was meant to just be a diary of our year in Israel so this is basically the end. We might have some summary posts about the year soon but we won't be logging our day to day activities anymore. Thanks to all the readers and commenters and to everyone who helped make our year in Israel a success.

Saying Goodbye

(I had to look it up online to see if goodbye needed a hyphen. Apparently it's a machlokes between the Americans and the Brits.)

Anyway, it's amazing here that when we say goodbye to people everyone wishes us well and expresses their hope that we return soon. It doesn't matter if they're good friends or people we're just meeting for the first time. Everyone seems genuinely sad to see us leave. I've moved quite a bit in my lifetime and sometimes people are sad when I move (usually it's because of Shira or the kids and not me but that's not the point) but they don't tell us that they hope we move back. Here people are really sad that we're leaving the country just because they want Jews to live in Israel. It's pretty cool.

Today we Shira finished packing the last of the clothes and we loaded Amy's car. We Shira had basically finished packing Thursday morning and our house has been completely empty since then besides our 14 duffel bags. It was a great move because the last couple of days have been pretty relaxing. We came with 17 pieces of luggage eleven months ago. We're six people so in the course of one year we collect a lot more junk and other things that we'd normally keep. Thanks to my cousin we were allowed two extra bags so over the last couple of months we've been busy sending our bags back to Baltimore (thanks to all those who shlepped them for us and to Avi for storing them). We sent back five full duffels and now we have 14 more to bring back with us. We also gave away a lot of our stuff to my parents and a little bit to Amy. So my parents house is now full of lots of our junk but I think they got a few pretty useful things also so it's worth it for them. We also threw out a ton of stuff and somehow we fit all the rest with just two more bags than we brought. Way to go Shira!

Last Shabbos

Yesterday, Amy and Ethel came to visit with most of their families and we ate pizza and bagels. Most of the kids then walked to the new mall that opened last week down the block from my parents' house. Leora and Yeshaya decided that they wanted to spend Shabbos in Nof Ayalon so they went back with Amy. We never really intended to let Yeshaya stay overnight there and I wasn't crazy about Leora being there this Shabbos so Shira went and picked them both up just before Shabbos.

We had a nice relaxing Shabbos. Maya ended up staying and Rivka and Zvi both played lots of games with her. Normally, Bubbie eats the Shabbos meals with my parents but the elevator broke just before Shabbos so she had no way to get to their apartment - it's only one flight of stairs in this building but she can't walk that. So Friday night, I went with some kids and make kiddush and hamotzi there and today my parents, Rivka and Maya ate there. Then in the afternoon we all met in the park for a Shabbos party. After Shabbos Eric Hagege came to pick up Maya and to say good-bye.

Now we're counting down the hours until we leave. Really mixed emotions. We're all sad to be leaving but also a little bit excited to be going home and back to our "normal" lives.

Last Trip to Yerushalayim

One of the things we had to do when planning was to make sure that we had time to go with the entire family to the Kotel and the Old City. So yesterday after we got Rivka and Zvi early from school and then when Leora finished gan we all headed to Yerushalayim. Actually, we couldn't all go together because our rental car barely has room for five people and there is no way we can squeeze all six of us in there. So Yeshaya was supposed to stay with Savta but she was also planning on going to Yerushalayim to meet a cousin for lunch so he got to take the bus with her.

The rest of us went to the Old City. The kids (and adults) were not in the greatest moods at the beginning of the trip mostly because it is soooo hot here but after a little while in the air conditioned car, Leora fell asleep and everyone else relaxed. We can no longer park for free whereever we want since we returned our car to Cypress so we decided to park in the free Mamilla parking lot and walk through the Old City. When we got through Shaar Yafo, Shira came up with the great idea of walking through the Arab shuk. I've walked from Shaar Yafo to the Kotel many, many times with Shira and I'd suggested before walking through the Arab shuk but she never even considered it. It was just so hot that Shira decided it was worth the risk so we'd have a shorter walk in more shade. It was a great move!
We went out to eat at Bonkers Bagels and Burgers Bar. and then headed down to the kotel for mincha (actually Shira made a stop at a gift store to buy a few more things. Then we stopped to get some popsicles and ice cream and made our way back to the car. Zvi counted steps the whole way there and back, including our pit stops at the bathroom (24 steps each way) and altogether we walked down 405 steps and up 378 steps. We were ready to leave and noticed that traffic wasn't moving and we couldn't even turn where we needed to go so we just drove, having little clue where we were going. It turns out there was a big parade so a lot of streets were closed. We kept stopping to ask directions until we ask an American lady who started giving us directions through a bunch of side streets until she realized that it was too complicated. So she took a pencil and paper and drew us a perfect map to get out of the city. She spent 10 minutes giving us directions so we wouldn't hit any traffic and easily made it out of the city.

Last night, Zvi and I had an end of year awards party for our baseball team at the park.
This morning the Baks took Shira, Yeshaya and me out for breakfast in honor of our finishing mesechta Sota together.

Getting rid of everything

More movers are coming today to take our beds and washing machine. Tomorrow, the fridge and microwave are going and that will leave our house pretty much bare. The biggest headache was getting rid of the car. After the first attempt to get rid of the car was canceled, I got a call on Thursday night that there was a boat going out on Sunday. So I met Mrs. Davidson at Tzomet Shilat and we drove together to Haifa. There we met a journalist from Amsterdam who has been living in Israel for 3.5 years. She was also sending her car on the ship. Mrs. Davidson ran from office to office to finish the paperwork while we waited. Then we went together to the port to go through customs and bring the car to the boat. It took us almost 5 hours to finish everything but I was really glad that I had someone there who knew her way around.

While I was in Haifa, Shira took a train to the airport to rent a car so we wouldn't be without a car for even one minute. We decided to save a little money and got a little car which can't even fit our entire family but at least we can get around. Leora was still sick but thankfully my mother was able to watch all morning so we could get these things done. Some of our friends made us a going away/yerida l'tzorech aliya/hatzlacha party. We had a nice time.

Today, we went into Jerusalem to finish the paperwork for our car because we had the meches office to send a letter to our bank so they would release our bank guarantee. We also went to the Avis office so I could be added as a driver on the car and we went to Bezeq to try to return our modem and cancel the phone line. We were successful with everything except Bezeq because I didn't have everything we needed with me.