The Children of Israel Today

Over the last ten days Jews all over the world - in particular in Israel - have experienced an intensely emotional roller coaster. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remembered the six million Jews who perished at the hands of the Nazis. Five days later, we shed tears as we remembered and grieved the loss of 23,230 soldiers who gave up their lives so we can live ours in our own Jewish state. Just 24 hours later, we came together again, this time in immense joy, as we celebrated 67 blessed years in our tiny but precious country.

As my husband and I processed our emotions over the last two weeks, it was ultimately our children who provided the most inspiration and hope for the future. As parents, it is our tendency to want to shield our children from danger, whether it be physical or emotional. Only a month after we arrived in Israel, the three boys went missing, and from that point on, there was no protecting or masking our children from the pain that we were suffering as a people. They were all too aware what the siren indicated during Operation Protective Edge, and often talked about the enemy "Hamas."

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, I read many accounts about different aspects of the Holocaust in order to try to tap into the horror of what happened to our people. The mind cannot do much with the number "six million." It is beyond our comprehension. It was my girls who ultimately helped me tune into the day, bringing me home memorial candles that they had been given from school. "Here, Ima, tonight we're going to light a candle for, and remember, Mendel from Poland." Just like that, thanks to them, I was able to cry real tears and remember Mendel whose life was cruelly extinguished by the Nazis.

My oldest daughter, who is in the school choir, practiced day in, day out, deeply painful songs about IDF soldiers who died protecting us. As she rehearsed songs about soldiers, who from their graves apologized to their loved ones for breaking their promise to return safely home, she talked to me about the meaning of the words and how sad they were. When I heard her sing this song in the Yom Hazikaron ceremony in her school, I was totally moved and overcome by the children. They were not simply performing their parts. Children as young as seven years old were reflecting, remembering and feeling the pain of the loss of the soldiers, a few of whom had been previous students of their school or connected to them in some way.

Just 24 hours later, my children were singing and dancing in our community Yom Ha'atzmaut celebration - singing songs of national Jewish pride. They were not just mouthing the words but were genuinely connected to the awesomeness that is our country.


We want to protect our children from pain. That is a natural and correct parental instinct. However our Children of Israel today are strong, confident, and passionate. They understand the meaning of loss, but also are given a context in which to feel pain and sadness. They understand what it means to give of yourself and believe in a greater good. And they know how to grasp and love each moment, celebrating the tremendous nation that we are - that can only make those we have lost smile down from above.

I have always observed and noticed how much more mature and confident Israeli children are than others in different parts of the world. The reason is that children at a very young age here are intuitively aware of what is happening in Israel. While I would obviously do as much as I can to protect them, it is correct and healthy that they know what it meant to be a Jew in 1939, and what it means to be a Jew in the State of Israel today. When we look at our Children of Israel, they give their parents and elders hope and comfort - as they represent an inspired future in the Jewish homeland. Do I wish my children never had to experience such pain? Absolutely. But the Children of Israel today have taught me, in their simple yet profound understanding of our people, that we can and will thrive - no matter what.

Returning Home

Six months ago, we made the decision to return to Israel. We knew we weren't eligible to make Aliyah - having lived in Israel for 11 years previously - but what did it mean to be a "returning Israeli"? Was it just a technicality or different status in our teudat zehut/identity card?

Almost as soon as we finalized our plans to come back to Israel, we found out about a "toshav chozer" conference that was taking place in NYC. Both Josh & I reflected many times during the conference, where MKs spoke from the heart about the beauty of returning "home," how mind-blowing it is that we have a country that not only offers practical and financial assistance to returning Israelis, but genuinely welcomes us "home." Is there any other country in the world that welcomes home its residents with open arms like Israel?

When my husband and I made Aliyah (separately) in 1998, there was no Nefesh BNefesh on the scene. No IDF soldiers greeting us at the airport. No ceremony. And this time around too, we were just a frazzled family of five with fifteen suitcases on a regular El Al flight. But even though we didn't get to enjoy the magical NBN experience, there was no mistaking the fact that we had arrived "home."

Moving countries is never fun, but when you are returning "home," you realize very quickly that you are NEVER alone. Not in our new community, Rehovot, where we were received with such a beautiful welcome; not in Misrad Haklita, where they patiently and gently talked us through the rights we are entitled to; not in our girls' elementary school, which welcomed our girls six weeks before the end of the school year without batting an eyelid; and not in our new apartment building, where our new neighbors offered us their fridge to store our food while we were without appliances, and invited us for Shabbat meals.

Three months later, and the honeymoon ain't over. When we left the US, we left behind not just amazing friends, but parents, siblings, our children's grandparents, nieces and nephews. Blood relatives. No easy thing. But returning to Israel, returning HOME, means that no matter how tough things get, no matter how harsh and ugly the world can seem, in Israel you are among brothers. Among family. One people, one heart.

These words play out constantly in our lives.

The limitations of the Israeli public school system only reinforce what a tremendous country Israel is, and how spectacular my girls' school is. It takes very little effort at all to find fault with the overcrowded classrooms, the low ratio of teachers-students, etcetera, etcetera, but amidst the chaos and disorganization, there are spectacular human beings who genuinely care about our children's integration back into Israel, about their comfort, about their happiness. One people, one heart.

This week I once again discovered that to be a "returning Israeli" is not just a technicality, but that you are truly being welcomed with open arms. As "returning Israelis" who have been out of the country less than 4 years, my girls are not technically entitled to receive any help from the school with Hebrew.

Yet Tachkemoni, my daughters' school, is choosing to overlook that technicality, and at the end of each school day, my girls receive an extra hour of assistance with homework/Hebrew. The girls' classes are bursting at the seams - Tzofia is one of 39 students with only one teacher - yet the teachers bend over backwards to make themselves accessible at all times for both us and the girls, and constantly are offering support and words of chizuk/encouragement. One people, one heart.

This summer was a disaster for Israeli children - yet my daughters' teachers and ganenet took the time to pick up the phone to check in and see how they were doing, and to offer support and encouraging words.

None of this do I take for granted. Last night I was at my youngest daughter's back-to-gan meeting. As we went around the room and introduced ourselves, I told everyone that we just returned to Israel three months ago. The parents all clapped and said "bruchim habaim - welcome." Can you imagine such a scene in France, England, anywhere in the world? Where fellow parents - essentially strangers - in your child's class would be so excited and inspired by the idea of someone returning home to... Manchester?

We left Israel three years ago, unaware what it would mean if we ever one day decided to come back, but Israel was waiting for us patiently all that time to welcome us back home.


Imma - music to my ears

I am ashamed to say that often, when I hear the call, "Imma," from my two girls, I tense up. It is as if, on some level, I resent their encroachment upon my time, my peace, my quiet, my thoughts.  When I stop, in the quiet of the day when they are at gan, or at night when they are fast asleep, to think about this reaction of mine, I feel nothing but remorse and a desire to take them out of gan and lavish attention upon them, or go into their room at night and kiss their foreheads as they sleep. But being human, the next morning, when one is demanding more cornflakes while the other is having a tantrum and refuses to go to gan, my good intentions fly out of the window, and I feel once more resentment at having to deal with the stress.

I acknowledge that the above concession does not make me an evil person, just a human being. But some events have unfortunately occurred over the last few weeks that have altered my perspective. Unfortunately, a close family member of ours has been diagnosed with the big "C." The prognosis is good, and please G-d, we are all praying for her speedy recovery, and the medical statistics give us a lot of reason to hope.

Since her diagnosis, she has created an online journal, where she can keep friends and family apprised of her condition. Her entry yesterday struck me to the core. She wrote that she believes that G-d knows what He is doing, and that everything that is happening to her is happening for a reason. What she fears, however, is that in the same way she often rejects her kids' requests, regardless of how much they wish for what they can't have, G-d is going to reject her entreaties. And she is frightened of leaving her husband and three kids alone, without her.

Without being too morbid, it struck me deeply what a gift I have, every single day, to have my girls call my name, to be their support, their rock, their shoulder to cry and kvetch on.

What a beautiful, amazing gift that I am strong enough and healthy enough to be their support mechanism. Not everyone gets to have that choice. Not everyone has the ability, even if the will is there, of being able to physically GIVE to their children. And it makes me realize that the sweetest music to my ears are those four letters which I hear a million times a day: Imma.

Please pray for Sarah Shayndel bat Frumah.

Is it any wonder?

Last week, on July 3rd, a Palestinian bulldozer driver went on a deadly rampage in downtown Jerusalem, knocking over a bus, plowing over cars, and damaging buildings. So far, three are dead, over sixty are injured.

When you are confronted by unspeakable horrors that defy the imagination, your first reaction is: How? How could this have happened? How did this man get his hands on a bulldozer?

The brutal but honest answer, one which everyone would prefer to avoid, is that we gave this man the weapon he needed to destroy life. The Jerusalem Light Rail Company hired a Palestinian man with a criminal record, someone with a drug problem who had spent time in jail for criminal activity, and let him loose with a bulldozer. And why? So they could save a few shekel on cheap labor. We gave him the "tools" he needed to kill us, and his sign-off was the words with which we have tragically become all too familiar: "Allah Akhbar - God is Great."

(As a side note, I know that everyone reacts to, and deals with, horrific incidents like these in their own way. A dose of denial is necessary, and even healthy, in order to get through the day. People process events in their own way, and come up with their own explanations and rationalization to make sense of the inexplicable. That being said, I observe that when something awful happens, people find it a lot easier to say that a tragic accident happened because someone wasn't keeping Shabbat, for example, than to admit that our own country is cutting off our oxygen and signing our death warrant. Case in point: In our newly-opened Kanyon in Modiin, a man fell yesterday, on Shabbat, three floors from an elevator. And already people are writing in the talkback section on Ynet that it happened because he was violating Shabbat. For some reason, people find it easier to swallow to imagine G-d's reaction to the violation of Shabbat. Yet, when you tell people that WE, the State of Israel, ALLOWED THIS TO HAPPEN, because we knowingly, with our eyes wide open, hired a Palestinian convict and let him loose in a bulldozer - people look at you like you've fallen from Mars.)

And now? Now what is happening? How are we reacting? The government is questioning the legitimacy of demolishing this man's HOME in East Jerusalem. As far as they are concerned, It's one thing to demolish a person's at least three people's LIVES, but is it really appropriate to demolish their HOMES?

Just a couple of weeks ago, I heard on the radio that a Palestinian from East Jerusalem was distraught that his olive trees were going to be destroyed, because Israel was erecting a security barrier.

The bottom line is simple: In a country where murder is considered a "natural reaction" from the Arabs, but where it is questionable and even reprehensible to destroy OLIVE TREES and HOMES, is it any wonder that a six-month-old baby is going to grow up without her mother? There is nothing heroic about not defending your own.

The victims of the bulldoze rampage were innocent civilians going about their daily business, and traveling through the city. They are not just victims of senseless hatred and sadism from the Arabs, but they are victims of the State of Israel, who value their pockets and political careers over human life.

A six-month-old baby is robbed of her mother, and a bereft man is robbed of his wife. Two others are dead. Sixty others are injured. And we only have ourselves to blame. I am deeply ashamed.

Five Ways to Find the Right Editor

Thanks to the Internet, and my fantastic designer husband who built my website, my services and resume are on display to the world. No longer do I have to rely solely on my colorless and anorexic Word resume (that has to be no longer than a page in order to be readable) to get the word out. If you google "freelance editor Israel," I am at the top of the list. And I haven't spent a shekel. It is that easy.

But if you are looking for an editor online, you need to be sure that you have found the genuine article. These are the questions you should be asking an online editor/proofreader before you sign on the dotted line:

1. Google the editor. (this is a fictional name for the purpose of illustration. I would actually run a million miles from a website with a name like that.) seems to offer you exactly what you are looking for. Fast, efficient service at an affordable rate. But who is behind Do they tell you on the site the name of the editor? I would be automatically wary of faceless services that theoretically could be outsourcing your work for pennies to desperate foreign workers around the globe. It is important to know exactly who you are hiring. If the website does provide a name, do a search on Google for that person's name. If the person really is such a reputable editor with a stellar reputation, there should be SOME mention of the person online in connection with the books/works s/he edited. If you cannot find this person online, I would think twice before proceeding any further.

2. What Have You Edited? An editor that boasts on his/her website a wide array of editing services should be able to prove it. If you do not see a list of edited works/articles/websites, ask them to send you SPECIFIC examples of published works. If they say that it is confidential, or that the works are forthcoming, and have not yet been printed or published, you should immediately eliminate this person from your search. Any editor/editing service that cannot provide you with at least FOUR examples of PUBLISHED books they have edited, or articles that have been published, is not a credible editor, or at least not an editor with enough experience to give you the best possible service. Editing samples are lovely - and I enjoy providing this service to prospective clients - but, far-fetched as it sounds, you have no hard evidence that the editor in question has not farmed out the sample to ANOTHER editor for a free sample edit. People who are desperate for work will sometimes take desperate measures.

3. How True Are the Testimonials? Often, you will find a Testimonial page that glitters with praise for the said editor's magical abilities. Praise such as, I cannot begin to thank you for the magic you have worked on our website. You have transformed our website, and we will certainly be working with you again! D. from Plymouth. Or, I am so glad I found you. My book is now on the New York Times bestsellers list, and I will certainly be recommending to you to other writers. Sergio from New York.

Well, if you find a page of testimonials that resemble Lonely Hearts ads, and are predominantly supplied by anonymous initials, such as D. from Plymouth and Sergio from New York, it isn't looking good. True, some clients may prefer to remain anonymous, but if the editor is hard-pressed to find at least FIVE clients/writers who are willing to stand behind their FULL real name in praise of his/her work, then you are looking at the wrong editor. And if they do provide full names, but no titles, ask the editor for the name of the website/publication that h/she supposedly edited for this writer.

If you want to be especially sure that you are not being conned, do an online search for the writer, and see if you can find any contact details so you can verify whether the recommendation is authentic.

4. How Do You Work? You have checked out that the editor is the real McCoy, and the sample edit has convinced you that this is the right editor for your work. Before finalizing any agreement, or committing to working with this editor, make sure you understand the editor's method of working. Will s/he be sending you chapter by chapter for your review? Will s/he be working in Track Changes so you can view all of the changes? Will s/he proofread the text after having completed the line-edits? Will s/he be sending you general comments on the structure and content before proceeding to line-editing? How receptive and sensitive is the editor to your feedback? Will the editor be working closely with you, or should you expect to only receive the edited version at the end of the process?

If this is the first time you are working with an editor, and you are not yet comfortable with his/her approach and technique, I would recommend that you search for an editor who is committed to working closely with you, and who will send regular updates and installments for your review.

5. It's All About the Money. Once you are satisfied that you have found the right editor, there are a couple of steps you can take to protect yourself even further.

a. Ask the editor to prepare a contract that can be sent to you either via email or hard copy with all of the terms clearly written out.

b. Make sure that in the contract the editor has included ALL of his/her responsibilities. If the editor promised to provide you with three rounds of editing, then make sure this is included clearly in the contract. If the editor has agreed to a deadline, make sure this is in the contract. And make sure to include the clause that if the editor does not, for whatever reason, COMPLETE the editing of the manuscript, that you are not bound to pay, even partially, the editor. I would have either a lawyer, or a friend who is familiar with contracts, to review the contract before signing it.

c. I would be loathe to pay ALL the money upfront. I would rather ask if you can pay in installments, so that you can at least be sure that the editor is not going to run off with your money, and there is an incentive for him/her to make it to the finishing line.

Amongst brothers

At last, I think - or rather hope - I can say that I have finished making amends to the State of Israel for the accident that I was involved in two years' ago, and although my license is tarnished with fourteen points that will only disappear after two years of a squeaky clean record, I am hopeful that the worst is behind me.

Perhaps my optimism is ill-founded, given the fact that I didn't expect my license to be suspended for three months, or to have to pay 1000 NIS, or to have to take a 12-hr drivers' refresher course, which I have only just completed. At the back of my mind, I am half-expecting another accusatory phone call or letter that will prove that the accident is continuing to haunt me forever more... truthfully, nothing in this country surprises me anymore.

The course that I have just completed may not have done much to improve my driving, or increase my knowledge of the mechanics of my car, but sitting amongst 40 Israeli "refreshers" in a cold classroom for four hours a night, three days a week, shed some light on the Israeli psyche, and why it is that Israelis are such awful drivers.

About three-quarters of my fellow classmates were male, and an elderly Russian man and myself were the only non-Israelis in the group. Amongst the class were truck drivers, cab drivers, and teenagers under the age of eighteen who had lost their license before the ink even had a chance to dry on their first license.

The teacher, Arik, from Petach Tikva opened the class by stressing that with more people dying on the road per year than in suicide attacks, the Arabs may as well save their energy and sit back and watch us kill ourselves - the Arabs needn't do it for us, we do a good job destroying ourselves with our shameful driving. He then showed us slides on the board of accidents that resulted in fatalities as a result of speeding, drunken driving, and no seat belts. The images on the screen were gruesome, but rather than silence or any sign that they were moved in any way by what they had seen, my classmates began to snicker, and make such comments as "I don't believe that really happened," "This is from a movie, right?", "I didn't see it - the guy next to me is making too much noise, show it again" "Was that car a Ferrari?" Not quite the reaction Arik was hoping for.

Unfazed, Arik, in his mickey-mouse tie, black shirt, and blue jeans, proceeded to show the class recent newspaper headlines with awful stories of entire families being killed on the road as a result of reckless driving, and, again, a total disregard for what appeared in black and white in front of their eyes. "Why are you showing this to us? We would never get into accidents like those!" "I have a football game I CANNOT miss tonight, so I have to leave class at 8.30"... Oh, and the absolute best comment was: "Is that article from Yediot (one of the main Israeli national newspapers)? I make a point of never believing a word they say"... which evolved into a 30-minute argument in the class about the relative merits of each Israeli national newspaper. All the while, cellphones were going off, husbands were instructing wives when they should come to pick them up, mothers were warning their children that if their homework wasn't finished by the time they got home, there would be hell to pay....

My first reaction was to laugh at the indifference that was so characteristic of Israelis, but it then occurred to me that each one of us in the group was guilty of some type of traffic violation, and with such arrogance and a blatant refusal to acknowledge any responsibility or culpability, is it any wonder that there is such carnage on the road? And that is nothing to laugh about.

Religion came up a lot in conversation. Arik was saying that it is all very well and good to place your trust in G-d, if you are that way inclined (he is irreligious), but G-d wants us to help ourselves. This was in response to a comment from a black-hatted fellow who quoted "Da Lifnei Ata Omed," "Know in front of Whom you stand," in reference to G-d, to prove that we have to be humble in G-d's presence, and we cannot control events or road accidents, but Arik replied that that is not enough. You need to know from where you are coming, and to where you are going - which can be applied both on a literal level - know which lane you are driving in, and which lane you want to turn into - and also on a deeper level - make sure that your feet are firmly planted on the ground, and that you do not get lost in spirituality or godliness to such an extent that you ignore the ABC's of life that demand common sense and basic safety measures. He told the story of how he was teaching a drivers' course in Kfar Chabad (a Chabad Lubavitch village in Israel), and only one woman showed up to the class. He told the woman that if their rabbi had told them to go to the class, there would have been a full class, but as it was, without the rabbi's say-so, people are unable to think for themselves. I started to feel slightly uncomfortable with the change in direction of the conversation. I didn't really get the sense that Arik was anti-religious, but that he had had some bad experiences in teaching religious groups - but still...

So ended the first lesson. The second and third lessons were hardly any better. With every statement or piece of information that Arik delivered, there were always those people who didn't waste a second in disputing what he was saying. Judging by some of the reactions of the class members, you would think their driving was flawless. "I NEVER drive when I am tired or in an emotional state." "I NEVER take medication, period, let alone drive after taking pills." "I ALWAYS stop to think before I begin to overtake." Arik took all the comments in good humor, and he made a lot of jokes himself, but on a personal level, the experience struck me as being so surreal and bizarre. Here I was, in Israel, taking a drivers' refreshers course, in which adults acted like teenagers and asked the teacher if the class was nearly over; religious guys saying that it is all in the hands of G-d anyway, and if the Almighty wants an accident to happen, it will happen anyway - regardless of one's driving; cellphones going off the whole time with Ayal Golan ringtones.... As I said, bizarre.The last half hour of the second class ended with a heated argument. A few of the guys at the back of the classroom were talking very loudly, and the people sitting near them complained that they couldn't hear Arik speak. One truck driver piped up and said, "There is a reason why we are sitting at the back of the class... if you want to hear Arik, go sit near the front, or better yet, go take some private lessons with him..." which proceeded into an argument amongst all the classmates. And what was I doing while all this was going on? Writing dinner menus for the rest of the week, and preparing shopping lists! World War III may have been erupting in front of my eyes in the classroom, but so help me, my family would still eat that week!

The grand finale, the final class on Thursday night, culminated with a 30-minute exam, which sent me into a panic. You could only get four questions wrong out of 20, and according to Arik, if you fail the test, you have to take it again, and again, and the third time you take the test, you have to pay a fine, and considering that my notebook was filled with doodling and shopping lists, rather than techniques for safe overtaking, I wasn't optimistic.

It turned out that my fears were groundless. I was surprised and confused when I saw people talk to each other and ask each other questions DURING the "exam," and even ask Arik for help. The Russian guy had brought along a relative to help him translate the exam, and all in all, there was very little decorum. The multiple choice questions were confusing, and there were a lot of semantics in the way that the questions were phrased. I assessed the situation, and thought that it is either sink or swim. I could do the exam myself, and hope for the best, or I could turn to my classmates for help. At first I felt guilty at the prospect of "cheating," but given the fact that everyone in the class, with the exception of me, were helping each other out, I felt that after nine years of living in this country, it was high time that I became Israeli.

No sooner had I looked up from the exam with what must have been desperation in my eyes, there were two guys sitting in the row in front of me who offered to help me with some of the questions. With not the slightest attempt at discretion, one of them sat down next to me, went through the answers I had already filled out, told me that they were mostly wrong (no surprises there!), and basically redid my entire exam. He could have been giving me the wrong answers, for all I knew, but I decided that he was a safer bet than relying upon my own knowledge, or lack thereof, so I decided to place my trust in his hands, and lo and behold, I got 95% in the test. He said he didn't want to see me having to come back to do the test again, and that I shouldn't feel bad.

At that moment, I felt happy to be living in Israel - because just like siblings in a family - you may not approve of what they say or do, you may find them extremely annoying or immature, but they are your brothers, and they will be there to help you through any situation, no matter what. I may never understand what makes Israelis tick, or behave in the way they do, but they will not leave you standing out in the cold.

Disney World - a toddler's paradise or a British parent's nightmare?

me and josh in disneyIn two months, we are scheduled to fly to the States for a couple of weeks to stay with my in-laws in New Jersey. For five days of that time, we will be in Disney World, continuing my in-laws' tradition of taking their grandchildren (and their grandchildren's harried parents) to Disney World during winter break. Those who joined me at the beginning of my journey in blogging might recall from my very first post my feelings about Disney World. And in case you have joined the party late, you can read all about my very first taste of Disney World when I was engaged to my husband, five years ago.

Growing up in England, I never really gave much thought to Disney World - I knew it existed, it contained a bunch of Disney characters, and like everything and everyone in America, it was huge. Well, all that changed at the age of 23, when I started dating my husband. Disney World came up a LOT in conversation in our first dates, and I got the feeling that if I were to pursue this relationship, I would become increasingly familiar over time with Disney World, if not by actually going there, then by being treated to Disney World trivia and trips down Disney lane. To my husband's family, and to my husband in particular, Disney World is not just any vacation destination, but it is the Vacation of all Vacations. That became abundantly clear when I would dream out loud with my husband (then-boyfriend) of all the places in the world I wanted to travel with him, and instead of us visualizing gondolas and backpacking in Thailand, the conversation would invariably return to Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center. To his credit, he did agree to go to Italy if I could somehow recreate Disney World for him there - at that point, I realized that EuroDisney in Paris would be my best bet. In his words, "Why would you possibly want to go anywhere else in the world when there is EVERYTHING in Disney World?"

Joking apart, I did have an incredible time in Disney World when we went on our engagement trip, but I am not too sure if that is because I genuinely fell over head over heels in love with Disney World, or if it was by association -I was (and AM) in love with my husband, who was (and IS) in love with Disney World. Whatever the case, when I married Josh, it was with the acceptance of the centrality of Disney World in our lives, and it did not surprise me one bit when my father-in-law, who passed on his love of Disney World to his son, gave as a gift upon the births of my daughters the entire DVD collection of Disney movies. Gotta start them young, and sure enough, my four-year-old and even two-year-old girls make their father and grandfather proud as they sing the Disney songs joyfully and frequently. They know the movies and songs better than I do, which, granted, is not saying much. But still. No one could say they are not continuing the Weinstein legacy. Soon after my oldest daughter was born, my in-laws started planning how they would take all the cousins, and our daughter, when Eliana turned 4. Well, four years has passed and flown by, and my in-laws are making good on their promise. My girls are very excited to see Winnie the Pooh, and, as my two-year-old pronounces it, "Kicki Mouse." My husband and father-in-law are as excited, if not more, at the thought of the upcoming trip.

As for my mother-in-law, well, whenever I speak to her after her annual Disney trip, she has lost her voice or is exhausted after preparing all the meals, getting the kids ready, running after them all day, putting them to bed, so her feet are more firmly on the ground, and she is not floating as high as the menfolk of the family.

And me? Well, does it make me a terrible wife, mother, and daughter-in-law if I say that I am approaching this trip with trepidation rather than excitement? Being in romantic la-la land is very nice when you are floating around Disney World with your fiance, with not a dirty diaper or cranky child in sight, but the prospect of taking my two- and four-year-old there fills me with an emotion close to dread. I imagine that I will need a good vacation after this "vacation." It goes without saying that the kids will have a spectacular time, and that they will hopefully come back with great memories, which they can store up and then share with their boyfriends, please G-d, twenty (or forty years, if my husband had his way) years down the line, but truthfully, a nice calm vacation in England wouldn't go amiss right now. Or Europe. I miss Europe.

Anyway, if anyone has taken a toddler and a pre-schooler to Disney World (you deserve a medal), and has any tips or hints that will help me preserve my sanity, please do share. Adios amigos.

What ever made me think I could drive in this country - Part II

The inside of my head feels like a construction site today. And just yesterday I was thinking to myself (I was smart enough not to voice this thought out loud in case I gave myself an ayin hara)  how nice it is that I have not been sick for a while. Seemingly, it isn't enough to ward off superstition by refraining from verbalizing one's thoughts - the thoughts themselves jinx you. Voila, today I am sick, and, of course, being British, am blaming it on the weather.

Well, all is not lost. I may not have the necessary concentration to work, but the show will go on, and here is Part II of my misfortune on the Israeli roads, the drama of which continues until this day. 

 So where were we? Aah, yes. Summer of 2005. Just two weeks before the birth of my second daughter, I had come through the worst, and was officially an Israeli driver. I wasn't sure if this was something to be proud of - judging by the insane driving and amount of fatalities on the road in this country - but I was euphoric to finally have the independence I so craved, and never in my life thought I would be so elated at the prospect of being able to drive myself to the supermarket to buy a bag of milk.  I was not the only happy camper. After three years of Josh being the one who had to run all the errands single-handed, he was happy to relieve himself of the responsibility. Of course, I didn't really have much opportunity to drive in the two weeks leading up to the birth, given my size and my extremely pregnant condition, and I could not drive for six weeks after the birth because of the c-section delivery, but the knowledge, the sweet knowledge, of knowing that if I wanted to drive, I could, made me a very happy woman.

Fast-forward a couple of months to December of 2005 - it was a Friday morning in Modiin, and wanting to beat the normal Friday craziness in the supermarkets, I headed out early in the morning to the supermarket to do some last-minute errands. On my way back, at 8.30, I approached an intersection, and came to a stop at the stop sign. So far, so good. Advancing past the stop sign, I looked to my left, and saw a car coming from a distance, but thought I had enough time to make it, and cross the intersection. Well, I didn't. The car was speeding, and we collided. Thank G-d, no one was hurt. My car took the extreme brunt of the damage, while the guy's car was only slightly dented on the left side. I was reeling from shock. Before I knew it, the police had arrived, and our cars were moved away to the side of the road. The first thought that entered my mind was: I am screwed, I am screwed. For the first year of having your license, you are supposed to have a "New Driver" sign on the rear window, but mine was lying unused in the trunk. All it would take was for a policeman to look at my driver's license, and see that I had only passed the test a couple of months before, and I would really be in trouble. As it turned out, that was the least of my worries. The policeman did indeed take a look at my license, and remarked that I didn't have the sign at the back of my car, but instead of bailing me out for it, he winked at me and said, "al tidag, beseder, beseder" (Don't worry, it's fine). In this case, playing the role of the helpless female worked wonders.

A couple of minutes later, Josh arrived at the scene after my frantic phone call, and we talked to the Russian guy whose car I collided into. As far as I could see, he could only gain from the accident. His car looked as if it was at least fifteen years old, and the insurance money he would receive from the accident could help him buy a new car. It looked as if it is was on its way out anyway. We didn't fare as well. We had to replace the entire right side of our car for a hefty bill, even with the insurance. A very annoying situation, but we were philosophical about it. No one was hurt, we were just a couple of thousand shekel poorer, and life goes on. His speeding combined with my poor judgement caused the accident.

A couple of weeks later, I got a phone call from the guy's insurance company. He had claimed that his entire car was a write-off, and they wanted to verify his story. His car was only slightly dented, but obviously shekel signs were flashing in front of his eyes, and he wanted to profit from the situation, so he made out that his car had been totally wrecked. I told the insurance agent in no uncertain terms that HIS car was fine - although I couldn't say the same about my car.

So my insurance company battled it out against his insurance company, and we were issued with a notice that we had to go to court over it, and that we had to be present... I am sure you can guess from my "luck" this far the outcome of the case - the representative that was sent to court on behalf of my insurance company was an arrogant, oil-slicked teenager who looked as if he would be more comfortable as a DJ in a night club in Tel Aviv than in a court of law, and did not endear himself to the female judge who had obviously had had her fair share of swaggering insurance agents that day. So yet another defeat for us, and a letter arrived in our mail box just a couple of weeks later notifying us that they had "dropped" us, and that they would no longer give us insurance, since we had been in two accidents in two years. (The first "accident" happened a year before on our street in Jerusalem, when our car was parked outside our apartment, and a school wall came tumbling down at  7.30 in the morning, luckily injuring no children, but crushing our car.)  The injustice! How dare they just "drop" us like that? What is the point of having insurance if the minute you get into an accident, you are considered too much of a liability, and you find yourself insurance-less? Well, what choice did we have? We found another insurance agent who finally agreed to take us on, and although we weren't as fully covered, at least we had insurance.

 If only this was the end of my sorry tale. In June of this year, a message on my cellphone informed "Hakhel" that his court case had been postponed till July 15. Having put the accident behind me, and thinking that the message was obviously not for me, since who in G-d's name was "Hakhel", I concluded that they had the wrong number, and felt sorry for the dude who was never informed of the change in date of his court case. Well, another phone call a week later confirmed that "Hakhel" was their way of pronouncing "Sorelle," and that the message was indeed intended for my ears.

I tried to keep my voice even and calm when I spoke to the clerk, and thanked her for notifying me of the change in date in court case, but that I had no idea that there was even going to be a court case, and if she could please tell me what in G-d's name she was talking about, I would be ever so grateful. The next five minutes of our conversation revealed that the State of Israel were prosecuting me for poor judgement in an accident that had occurred two years ago. Of course, I had never received the original letter from the court, so this follow-up phone call telling me that the case had been postponed was not exactly helpful. 

You gotta love Israel - the ENTIRE government at the time were being indicted for some crime or another, including the beloved prime minister, Olmert, and the head of the police, and I WAS BEING PROSECUTED FOR POOR JUDGEMENT?   

After recovering from the initial shock, my next phone call was to find a lawyer who could find out from the police what the story was - and what it was that I was being prosecuted for. Apparently, the other driver had not only claimed that his car was a write-off, but that he had to go to hospital because of injuries sustained as a result of the accident. Frustration turned into rage - it's one thing for this guy to try to get rich out of the accident, but to claim that he was hurt was so outrageous and deceitful, he may as well have been claiming that night was day. My lawyer suggested that we work out some sort of plea bargain with the court, whereby I lose my license for a couple of months (that's a compromise???), and that would be it.

The lawyer told me that the worst-case scenario would be for them to take away my license for three months, so I wasn't quite sure why agreeing to them taking away my license for three months was a plea bargain - but he claimed that that was the best he could do given the fact that I was a new driver, and the cards were stacked against me. He did, however, assure me that there would be no fine. Okay, three months without a license - I had lived for this long without a license, life goes on. 

Well, to cut an extremely long story short, I arrive in court to find that not only was I going to be without my license for three months, but that I was going to be slapped with a NIS 1000 shekel fine. Apparently, my lawyer "forgot" - when he met with the prosecutor over coffee and croissants - to bring up the issue of the fine, and that was why, in essence, there was no plea bargain. I had paid $600 to an absolutely useless lawyer, and the prosecutor must have been laughing his head off at the results of the "plea bargain." The lawyer did reassure me, though, that I could pay the fine in tashlumim - monthly payments. How very reassuring. NOTE TO SELF: Hire an Israeli lawyer, not a self-effacing British one. Well, I didn't roll over meekly on this one - my husband and I insisted that the lawyer pay half the fine, and eventually he agreed, admitting that he had "forgot" to bring up the subject of the fine. There were TWO things the lawyer needed to discuss - the issue of my license being revoked for three months, and the fine - and out of those two things, he suffered amnesia, and forgot to deal with the money aspect.

I was told by the judge that I had to hand in my license to the court office, and pay the fine. Well, as I handed over my license - and my freedom - to the faceless woman behind the desk, my heart started to pound as she told me that she could not take my license, since it had expired just two days before. The three-month clock could not start ticking until I renewed my license, and then return to the court to hand it in. Exercising extreme self-restraint by stopping myself from having a nervous breakdown right then and there, I asked her calmly and slowly where I could renew my license in the area, and she told me where, but with one caveat - the Ministry of Transport were on strike, and I could not renew my license until they resumed work. So I had to wait an extra FIVE days until they deigned to get up from their strike and join the rest of the workforce before I could renew my license, and begin the three-month period of my driverless status.

I suppose I should have realized two weeks ago, on October 31st, when I finally got my license back, that that wouldn't be the end of it. Just this morning, I was delivered a letter informing me that I have to take a twelve-hour course on basic driving, followed by an exam at the end.

So do you think someone's trying to tell me something?


A catalogue of car woes - is someone trying to tell me something?

Sometimes I wonder if it just isn't meant to be. Me. Driving. Behind the wheel.

As of today, I am now back behind the wheel. Now that my three-month period of being an intolerable backseat driver has drawn to a close (my poor long-suffering husband!), I can "talk" about the experience with some degree of perspective. In July of this year, my license was taken away for three months, and I was fined 1000 NIS, for an accident that happened two years' ago, on a cold December morning in Modiin. In order for you to understand quite how unlucky this was, you're going to need some background info. It's a rocky ride, but there are some laughs along the way, so hold on tight.

It took me over two years to get my driver's license in Israel. I could have bought myself a Ferrari with the amount of money I spent on driving lessons. Now before you draw hasty conclusions about my driving and coordination skills based on the length of time it took me to get my license, and the fact that I just revealed that I was in an accident, I can say emphatically that this one was beyond my control. In order to take the practical test, you need to take the theory test. After a couple of months of crawling around the Modiin streets in the evening with my Iraqi driving teacher, whose name - Sassi Sasson - continues to crack me up until this day, we decided that I was ready to take the theory test and then the practical test. At 100 NIS per lesson, Sassi had done well out of me, and he gave me his blessing to prepare for the test.

Not trusting my limited knowledge of mechanical terminology in Hebrew, I opted to take the test in English. Pretty logical decision, one might think, but that was my first mistake. Now, maybe because I am an editor, I have a heightened awareness of inconsistencies and the like, but it was quite clear from page one of the theory book in English (if you can call it that) that finding one coherent sentence that didn't totally contradict the previous one was going to be a challenge of enormous proportions. Sentences like, "The transmission works in operation next to the gear box and the crank shaft all together up and down," swam in front of my eyes, and I told myself that if I could pass the theory test in English, I could do anything. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I turned to Sassi for help, and told him that although I am no mechanical whizz, the book just made no sense. Even if Sassi explained to me the ins and outs of mechanics (why you need to know the complex mechanics of the car just to pass a driving test, I will never know), it wouldn't help. The test in English would surely be based on the nonsensical drivel in the book - so the question was: Should I learn the correct information in the hope that the English test would be more coherent, or should I memorize the entire book, however dumb and illogical, in the presumption that they would test me based on the false information in it? 

Sassi could barely contain his excitement at hearing my dilemma. In Hebrew, he told me that I was absolutely right (thanks, Sassi, for telling me that NOW after I have already bought the book, and memorized each ridiculous sentence of its eighty pages) - the book was horrendous - filled with typos and inconsistencies - a landmine for any potential driver, and that he had a solution that would work to my advantage in more ways than one. As he delivered his master plan, I listened skeptically. Sassi suggested that I write a letter to the Ministry of Transport alerting them to the awful state of the English theory book. I should include in my letter some "best of the worst" sentences as examples of the mistakes. I should then take the opportunity to offer them my professional services as editor (gotta love the opportunistic edge of Israelis) to help them remedy the situation. How would this scheme benefit Sassi? Not quite sure. But he was mighty keen on the idea. He did say that he had other English-speaking students, and that it was in everybody's interest that something be done about the English theory book. Well, as ideas go, it wasn't the worst scheme in the world--but knowing the beauraucratical process in Israel as I do, I wasn't hopeful that the Ministry of Transport would be knocking down MY door anytime soon, however convincing my letter, so I left it at that, and promised Sassi I would give it some thought. This won't sound noble, but at the age of 26, as a mother and wife with a full-time job, I just wanted to DRIVE. Not launch a campaign against the Ministry of Transport, not write petitions, and rally for the cause. I just wanted to pass the damned theory test, so that I wouldn't have to take another cab again to pick up my daughters from gan.

 I told myself that I had written dissertations, and am now an editor - a silly theory test would not get the better of me. So I psyched myself for the test, and joined some giddy sixteen-year-olds in Modiin to take the test. Unlike me, they were taking it in Hebrew, and their books actually contained sentences that might actually help a person in a tricky situation with a flat tire. I was the only one who took the test in English, and the multiple questions were designed to trick. If I wrote the correct answer, would they fail me anyway, because that was not what was written in the English theory book? Felt like a lose-lose situation to me. And it was. I failed. Not just once. But twice. "Hi, my name is Sorelle, and I can't pass a theory test to save my life." According to the results of my theory test, I got 49 questions wrong out of 50. 49 questions wrong out of 50 - I ask you!!!  Well, as you can imagine, my self-confidence was at an all-time low at that point. That was until I read the local Modiin newspaper a couple of months later - and said that they were no longer giving out tests in English in Modiin, because there were reports of corruption, and that the tests were marked manually - and not on the computer.... each time you take the test, you have to pay another 113 NIS, so it was in many people's interest to keep on failing those unsuspecting Anglo students... At that point, I burned the theory book in English (no joke), and prepared myself to become incredibly familiar with mechanical lingo in Hebrew.

Well, three's a charm, and I passed my third theory test in Jerusalem. (Lest you think things were finally going smoothly, unbeknownst to me, while I was taking my theory test, my husband who had dropped me off at the test center had gotten into a minor accident, and collided into another car...) Yay! Hebrew prevailed! Sassi was profiting very nicely from my predicament, since he said that it was important for me to keep taking lessons while I was studying for my multiple theory tests, so that I wouldn't lose momentum, so we kept cruising round the Modiin streets, me, Sassi, and Ayal Golan, and all other sorts of delightful Mizrachi singers on the radio, as he regaled me with tales of Iraq, and his escape from there at the age of 14 when he left his family and moved to Israel alone. The editor in me was thinking at the time of offering to edit his autobiography - he told some pretty hair-raising stories - either he had a fascinating life, or he would make a great fiction writer.

The time came for me to take the practical test, and by that point, I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my second daughter. Getting behind the steering wheel was a challenge enough, never mind navigating one-way streets in Modiin at the mercy of insane Israeli drivers, and of course, as can be predicted, despite Sassi's assurances that I would pass without a problem (after over 100 lessons, I would hope so!), the tester set me a trap, and I fell for it hook, line, and sinker. He told me to do an emergency stop, so I did - but he failed me for parking on the wrong side of the road. Another 300 shekel down the drain, and some more "momentum" lessons with Sassi in between my next test. Well, I took my second test just two weeks before I gave birth to Tzofia, and as I was waiting to see which tester I would be subjected to this time, I was horrified to see that it was the same tester who had just failed me. I turned to Sassi in desperation and told him that after last time, there was NO way that I was going to pass! The tester hated me as it was! Sassi reassured me in the typical Israel fashion that does everything BUT reassure you - "Al tidag, hakol yihiyeh beseder, taamini li, motek" - "Don't worry, love, everything's going to be just fine." Of course, what this translated as, "I have a deal with the tester, and you WILL pass this time." I looked at Sassi menacingly, and told him that I had better pass, because at 38 weeks pregnant, I was fed up already, and that if I failed again, I would drive illegally, and wouldn't take any more lessons with Sassi. I don't know what it was that clinched it, but I did indeed pass the next time. The tester's demeanor and attitude was totally different this time - he didn't snap at me, and he was polite. I don't know whether it was because he feared that upsetting me would cause my waters to break in his nicely scented shiny car, but this was a joy ride. He made me drive around the block a couple of times - NO reverse parking, NO highway, NO traps - and lo and behold, I passed! YAY!  I had made it to the finishing line, but the drama still wasn't quite over...

<APOLOGIES FOR THE CLIFFHANGER> Stay tuned for part II of "Why did I ever think I could drive in this country?" 

A squash and a squeeze

A Squash and a Squeeze is a beautiful children's story that is a real favorite with my girls, and unlike many of the other books I read to them, where I am wondering guiltily if they will really notice if I skip a page or five, this is a book I have no problem reading... again and again. The book comes with an audiotape, so I mimic the wise old man and little old lady's accent with the best Welsh accent I can muster. 

The story centers on a little old lady who is dissatisfied with the size of her house, calling it a squash and a squeeze, (da-dum), but, with the advice of a wise old man (who looks like a venerable rabbi one might find in the kollels of Lakewood), who suggests that she bring in farmyard animals into her home, she soon discovers that it's not as small as she thought.  Not understanding, at first, why bringing animals into her already-small home would help her predicament, she questions the wisdom of the wise old man's advice, but nonetheless welcomes in animals, one by one, who wreak havoc on her home. The wise old man's final piece of advice is to take out each animal, one by one, and by the time her home is an animal-free zone, nafal ha'asimon, the penny has dropped, and she realizes that her home, after all, is not quite the "squash and the squeeze" she originally felt it to be. 

To me, this sweet story captures the essence of life, and I have had many a "squash and a squeeze" moment. Living in an apartment in a neighborhood which predominantly boasts large and beautiful homes, I, too, have experienced on occasion a "squash and a squeeze" feeling, where I just feel that what I have just isn't enough. And while I am not at the point of wanting to welcome in farmyard animals into our home in order to make me appreciate what I have - not being the greatest animal lover in the world - I do see that perspective is everything. It is OK and natural to want more - we are not nazirites that seek a lifestyle where abstinence is virtuous - but remember that you have a choice how to perceive your reality, and that everything is relative. You can want more, without sinking into depression about it - and the important thing is that in your desire to achieve more, earn more, possess more, don't lose sight of all the good things you have in your life - whether it be your husband, your children, your friends...

For many years, I have fought (admittedly not very hard, given my shopaholic tendencies) against my materialistic inclinations. I felt that being materialistic ran counter to Jewish thought. Wanting a big house, lots of clothes, nice vacations just wasn't holy, in my book. I didn't know how to reconcile those two aspects of my being - the desire to "have more" and my desire to be a good Jew. 

I used to feel very guilty for comparing what I have to what others have - but then I realized that if I weren't to do that, I probably wouldn't be human. The desire for "more," "bigger," and "better" is what makes human beings grow, work harder, and thrive to improve, in the interest of bettering their lives. Yes, it is true, most people, upon leaving the Diaspora, and making Aliyah, breathe a sigh of relief at escaping the materialistic mindset, whereby the size of your house determines the size of your happiness - but not always.

In my mind, as long as your desire to be extremely wealthy includes a desire to give tzedakah (charity), and doesn't turn you into a snob, then there is not necessarily a dichotomy. It's just a hard balance to strike - but I guess that's what Judaism is all about. The struggle to achieve balance.