THE JUST POST ONE-YEAR POST
June 18, 2013 – PART 1 HIGHLIGHTS
One year plus 3 days…
The last few days have felt like a microcosm of my entire year…
Friday after school we went to the local Jerusalem pool in our neighborhood. While sitting poolside, I pulled out Shayna’s first tooth (lower front) which was already pretty wiggly. We called my orthodontist father in Queens to mark the occasion. Then we had a Shabbat dinner with wonderful Israeli friends who we had Shabbat dinner with exactly one year before - only a few hours after we landed in Israel for the first time on June 15th, 2012. Lev still didn’t eat.
Saturday we celebrated Sunday’s Father’s Day holiday which felt just about right because American holidays aren’t exactly such a big deal here anyway. After Jodi and the kids made me breakfast in bed (okay that is not typical of my first year here), I got some cute cards and then pulled another one of Shayna’s teeth while she sat on the toilet and I hoped that this wouldn’t be an every day experience. It was beautiful weather as we headed out to shabbat lunch with friends, then to the after-shabbat party at the salon/home of other dear friends, the Silverman-Abramowitzs, with whom we’ve probably spent at least 50% of Saturdays with this year. We owe them more challah than we could ever bake.
My Sunday started off the way it has for several months - a breakfast with a group of rabbis and comedians (I’m decidedly NOT a rabbi). Organized by my friend Susan Silverman (Rabbi) - and based on her idea - every week several of us meet to go over that week’s story from the Torah. Dissect it, parse its meanings or in my case, make some snarky observations. Over the course of the many months we’ve been meeting, I’ve learned a lot I didn’t know including how overwhelming the interpretations of our history can be. I don’t mean to sound naïve - and if I am so be it - however, I’ve never sat down and studied the torah. I know some of the stories to be sure, but I’ve never gotten into the deeper meanings behind the stories. I consider myself more spiritual than religious.
These Sunday morning get-togethers though where we’re discussing the history of the Jewish people as told through the stories of the Torah - informally, over coffee (or in my case orange juice), and with people who are not proselytizing, but instead are open-minded, devoted and curious, have been that microcosm of my life here this past year. A mixture of learning new things, meeting new people and having some of the best conversations over breakfast. By the way, there is a breakfast culture here unlike what I’ve experienced before.
After breakfast I walked down the block to a café called Itizik’s (where I have a weekly WEDNESDAY breakfast). Some of my photographs had been hanging for the last month or so there and I had to pick them up (Itzik had a new exhibit installed, but it was nice to get a little exposure for my photography). Later on Sunday, I bought a present for the twins’ teacher, picked up the kids after Hebrew school, went to a playdate, then had to leave for the opening night of a sketch/improv comedy show I directed. The show went very well, if I can say so myself. On the way home, I called my Dad and brother who were together at a family Father’s Day event in New Jersey to send my love….And then I made it home exhausted.
Monday included doing a bunch of housework plus laundry, shopping and picking up the kids. Jodi came home and cooked a great dinner (Taco Night!!) but then she had to go to work… there was bath time, bed time – with some time spent during the day checking in and out with social media and a bunch of e-mails congratulating me (us) on the show. I also did some long-distance coordinating on some furniture I’m designing for a client back in NY. I did some e-mailing around about a special showcase performance of my play; “So, I Killed A Few People” –that will be done by my friend Mark Sutton for one night only in NY on June 28th (e-mail me if you want more details). Mark did a great job in a revival of the show over the last couple of months at The Annoyance in Chicago. We’ll see where the future takes us on that show, but I’m happy to see it happening again. (side, yet related note – a theater company in Biloxi, Mississippi just did the show for 3 nights last week there to apparently a great response).
Monday night ended - as many of our nights do (sadly, I know) with Jodi and I in our reclining chairs falling asleep to re-runs of The West Wing (one of the best things about our cable in Israel!). I think Zoe was about to be kidnapped, but quite frankly we were tired.
That last image is just so you don’t think things here are TOO adventurous.
And now I’m doing this. Writing to you. Well, really I’m writing for myself or rather for the future me, but I’m happy to fill the present you in on the state of the present and recent past me. Okay, I’m dropping that tricky wordplay because I’m getting a headache, but here’s the semi-buried lead: I’ve had a great first year in Israel.
I’m trying to do a lot - first and foremost as a Dad and support to Jodi (they call us “Trailing Spouses” here), but also keep my creative juices flowing with theater and writing here, designing back in NY and learning more about Israel in general and specific.
Granted… There have been some tough times – I wasn’t so excited while Jodi was covering the war in Gaza, but she did an incredible job under difficult decisions, so my worry was constantly accompanied by my pride in her. Every day here, no matter how great it was, the inability to fully converse in Hebrew (or even partially most of the time) weighs on me and makes me feel a bit like a schmuck. (by the way, knowing the word “schmuck” doesn’t count as knowing Hebrew). Towards the top of my list of goals for year two is getting better at Hebrew. Also on that list is not letting Israeli parking decisions affect my blood pressure and pumping my own gas without feeling like an idiot for not knowing which button to press.
But, when I take the long picture of the year I don’t let that override the fact that thanks to my lovely, talented (“impressive and talented” according to a prominent Haaretz newspaper columnist), hard-working, wife’s career opportunity, I’ve also been given a chance for a life with new experiences at the ripe old age of 50. (49 ½ when I landed here!)
I thought I’d muse a bit about some of the events of the last year. A few of which I’ve touched on in previous posts, a few which I haven’t and even after all this, there is still the feeling that I’m not quite capturing it all.
Shortly after we arrived last year, we went to the Jerusalem Film Festival – opening night was Woody Allen’s TO ROME WITH LOVE movie (with a host of stars including David Pasquesi)… it was an evening screening outdoors at the Sultan’s Pool near the Old City on a 5-story high inflatable blow-up screen… beautiful weather and if I remember correctly no popcorn. I also got to shake hands with famed Israeli/Canadain architect Moshe Safdie. Saw some great films at the festival as well – the Jerusalem Cinemateque is a world-class theater complex. Thanks to the Boston Globe for credentialing me (I have written a few pieces for their movie section).
One day we traveled to a music studio in East Jerusalem and met Israeli pop singer David Broza – who couldn’t have been nicer and more welcoming to us (the kids got to be in a video they were shooting there that day).
A few weeks later, a real highlight of our entire year – we went to David’s “Sunrise At Masada” concert… we left at midnight and drove to the base of Masada, where David does his annual Tu’bav concert beginning at 3:30 am and going through to 6:30 am – sunrise… he sings in Hebrew and Spanish – I didn’t understand more than 2 words, but it was an incredible show and in a place to rival any of the 50 plus Springsteen concerts I’ve seen. If at some point I lose my mind, I hope one of the last images in there is the sun rising over Masada as David sings.
The summer marked a settling in of sorts – the kids went to camp, Jodi was working hard and I was trying to keep up in my ulpan, Hebrew school and solve the every day mysteries of finding every day things in a still-mysterious city…. But there was a routine and we began hanging out at with some other families we met through the camps – the after camp Popsicle Posse was formed then.
We also had some visitors from Brooklyn and Newton, Mass that helped us ease into our life here while still staying connected.
Speaking of connected, I’m pretty sure that Facebook traffic in Israel started to spike upon my arrival as I realized what a great way it is to keep in touch and post pictures of the kids and places we were going…. And keep up with friends and family in the States as well. I’m not getting any money for this Facebook endorsement.
We celebrated July 4th at an intimate party for 2000 people at the Ambassador’s house in Herzilya – no barbeque, but still a few franchises to keep my memories of American food alive… and a beautiful sunset, just like the First Continental Congress saw I imagine.
I would say that by the end of our first summer – that first hot summer - I had officially gone to swimming pools and beaches more than any summer since camp.
The kids charmed the life guards and I tried not to feel too embarrassed every time my insufficient Hebrew was being tested every time I tried to get the kids’ ice cream (glida) at the pool concession stand.
School started in mid-August for the twins. No, they weren’t matriculating in college with such an early start, but rather starting kindergarten at JAIS, the Jerusalem American International School. Writing this now at the end of the kindergarten year, I can’t tell you how happy and impressed I am with the twins first year in school. They had a dream teacher and made progress on many fronts – reading, writing, projects, organization, etc. The one thing they really didn’t do was learn Hebrew. This is a sticking point with Jodi more than it is with me because if they don’t learn it while we are here it will feel like a wasted opportunity of quite a high order. I was concerned that their adjustment period would be too tough in an Israeli school – which everyone says is true for the first few months, but then they “get it.” I was also concerned about my own inabilities in dealing with their teacher and the school to be truthful. We’re going to make some adjustments in this second year to help. On the plus side as far as I’m concerned, it was great that there was a strong International population in the school – Lev & Shayna had kids/friends from Australia, Canada, Germany, Haiti, Kashmir, the UK and even New Jersey in their class so they learned about other cultures… they learned about other religious holidays and rituals.
Our goal of having the twins become little citizens of the world is ongoing.
The fall brought the start of the Jewish New Year and we felt so very fortunate to have invitations around town for the various holidays – I saw more sukkot than I’ve ever seen and was humbled by their ever presence in the city. I’m still considering trying to design a sukkah for our terrace (it will look good on my architecture resume along with the reception desk I designed out of high school lockers).
Around Hannukah (or Chanukah or Channukah or Hanukah), Jodi’s parents came for a relatively short, but sweet visit that included a trip to the Ambassador’s house for one of the nights of the holiday.
We spent the end of the year and the beginning of 2013 in Egypt. First time for that.
It was incredibly interesting being there. I’m not sure the twins got the most out of the experience, but my hope is that some of it sunk in there somewhere.
We were in Cairo for a day and a half and then took an overnight train down to Luxor to a resort. Jodi pointed out, fairly rightly, that while the overnight train seems cool, it’s a bit dopey because you leave at night and get there just at the crack of dawn so you barely get to see any of the country side as you travel since it’s night and you’re sleeping… possibly my favorite part though was getting out of the train in the morning with all the other tourists doing the same train version of the ‘walk of shame’ having not showered or changed clothes as they left.
Cairo is a big hot mess of a city from what we saw of it – which was granted not that much. While driving around you see scores if not hundreds of buildings that are half-finished with concrete columns stubbed up awaiting a new floor – if it comes at all. There is a story that the buildings aren’t finished on purpose for two reasons – one, because once a building is finished, the people who live there need to start paying property taxes; and two, when they build, they don’t secure a loan to build the whole building, so when the money runs out they stop building and then go get more money.
We stayed at a nice hotel, saw the pyramids, saw the sphinx, and were amazed by it all. Also amazing were the number of people trying to sell you items– or give them to you, only to follow up and insist on money. We had an Egyptian female tour guide in Cairo who I was very impressed by even though she told me she was obsessed by Farmville. We ate at a McDonald’s, just past the barbed wire around Tahir Square, passing up the opportunity to eat at a KFC right on Tahir Square. Some might have thought it was scary to walk through this public place which had been the flashpoint of the Egyptian revolution, but it seemed like a bit of the East Village in Manhattan and I felt safe.
Luxor was a mix of the resort life and the tourist life. We were staying at a very nice family friendly place with several pools and the two words most important in my traveling life as a parent: “Kids Club”
We took excursions to see ruins and burial plazas built by ancient Egyptians. The Valleys of the Kings and Queens in particular were fascinating. For me, the amount of time, energy and ingenuity spent on celebrating the after-life of ancient Egyptians was particularly astounding and I wondered what if that energy and talent had been put towards progress and invention. Our tour guide conveniently brought us to an alabaster shop where we got free water and the hard sell to buy alabaster souveniors. (we did).
We went on an early morning balloon ride (the same exact balloon company that had a tragic accident several months after we were there)… that morning was pretty comical as we woke up late, hurried, but still made people wait for us at the bus from the hotel, which then made us late to go to the Nile boats filled with Chinese tourists – all of us headed to buses that would take us to the balloon fields for a ride at sunrise (boy they like to do stuff at sunrise in the Middle East). On the boats at 5:45 AM there was coffee and individually wrapped Twinkies with Arabic writing (but Hostess graphics)
All told in Egypt, we went on the following types of transportation: plane, bus, train, car, tour bus, mini-bus, camel, donkey, cart-pulled-by-donkey, horse, carriage-pulled-by-horse, boat, ferry boat, hot-air balloon.
I’m fairly certain that in each of those modes of transportation I was annoyed by errant flies (yes, even inside the airplane).
We went to a gala New Years Eve celebration at our hotel, which was over the top in performances ranging from a Dixieland band made up of Germans to a string of belly dancers to a guy doing amazing things with fabrics to a disco beat. There was an out of control buffet with lots of food in animal shapes including swans made up of butter pallets. International buffet and Egypt be damned, we still kept up our streak, which we’ve had since the beginning of parenthood, of falling asleep before midnight New Year’s Eve 2013.
We went back to Cairo for one might before flying back and stayed at a hotel right next to the airport. We fell asleep shortly after the kids did, but woke up about 11 pm and once again, proving that we are made for each other, Jodi and I both decided going to the hotel’s small basement casino was a good idea at that time. We were the only ones there. It was the saddest casino I’ve been to – topping even the Indian Casino in New Mexico that had a $5 MAX bet… I believe that we should be congratulated on donating a couple of hundred dollars to the Egyptian economy that night.
As I finish up this Part 1 re-cap of my first year, I had to take a break to help our Ethiopian house cleaner fix his Apple ID for his itunes account on his iPhone… Proving yet again, that yep, I’m not in Brooklyn anymore.
END OF PART 1 OF THE YEAR’S RE-CAP…MORE TO COME SOON…SOON!